The Proudest Moment

BP Easton

Late last winter, while visiting with my son Ryan, I learned that my grandson Easton had been invited to be a member of a "select" little league baseball team. He could become a member of Utah's Herriman Mustangs - a hand picked team of nine-year-olds who showed enough potential to move to the next level of competition. Mustang coaches had noticed Easton on his prior season's team and felt that he would be a good addition to the team.

The first conversation was between the coach and Ryan. The next between Ryan and my daughter-in-law Rachel. It would be a bigger sports commitment than Easton or the family had been involved in before. A longer season, more practices, more tournaments, and more games. It would also be more of an investment with more travel, more equipment, and nicer uniforms. It was an opportunity that needed consideration on several levels. Ultimately the decision was to give Easton the option to decide. He considered the opportunity and chose to join the new team of boys - most of which he didn't know. From that day forward, Easton was all in. He listened intently to his coaches, asked for extra batting practice with his dad, and his appetite for a playing catch was never satisfied. It was obvious that Easton was going to do what it took to be a ballplayer. I didn't think that I could be any prouder of him, but I was wrong.

As the season was ramping up, Cindy and I scheduled a weekend trip to Utah in order to visit the family and attend a three game tournament that the Mustangs were scheduled to play in. The weather was fine enough... just a chilly breeze mixed into into the bright spring sunshine. And yet the tournament would be cancelled. As luck would have it, there weren't enough teams registered for the event. There would be no games to play or watch while we were in town.

composite Easton
So what do ballplayers do when games are cancelled. They play ball of course! They play catch in backyard and take batting practice at the park. Easton's coaches organized a team practice and Grandpa Brooks was invited to watch the boys workout. I even got to stand out in right field and shag balls that were occasionally hit my way. (Someting that reminded me of my own little league days in the loneliest corner of the ballpark. But that's a story for another time).

Each time Easton came to the plate or ran the bases I felt a surge of pride that was reminiscent of times when Easton's dad and uncles were the players on their teams. But unlike the many practices and games that I missed for my own boys, Easton's dad was very present. Ryan threw pitch after pitch to player after player. Encouraging them and coaching them with the same positive tone in his voice. I didn't think I could be any prouder on that day too. But I was wrong again.

As the season continued, the Herriman Mustangs had far more wins than losses. On many nights - after another game concluded - I'd receive a call or text from Easton to fill me in on the details. Whether they won or lost his calls and messages were equally enjoyable for me. Easton seldom lost sight of the the fun in the game. There was the night he pitched for all but one inning and allowed just two hits while striking out ten of the batters he faced. On another occasion he came just inches away from his first over-the-fence home run. Night after night Easton's post game accounts would be a highlight of my day. I'm sure my pride was showing on those nights too.

Champ Ring Easton
Last week was the final league tournament of the season. This was the big one. The one that counted more than all the rest. "Guess what Grandpa," Easton shouted into the phone. "If we win all our games we'll get championship rings!" His excitement about the prospect of earning this recognized symbol of success was clearly present in his voice. And then, nearly as quickly, the disappointment came.

In a double elimination tournament, the Mustangs lost their first game 9-8. They competed against the leagues regular season third-place team and gave them all they could handle. But a loss is a loss. Tough for players at any age and especially hard for nine-year-olds who have their eyes squarely focused on winning a ring.

Now the journey to a championship would have to go the longer and harder route. Ultimately, they would play five more games in the tournament, with two of them them being repeat games against the highly regarded Trinity team. Trinity, the leagues first place team at the end of the regular season, was a very accomplished team made up of boys from across the greater Salt Lake valley. Each time the two teams played, the Mustang's prevailed with a win. Easton contributed on the mound, in the field and at the plate. And yet it was all about the team and his teammates when we visited after the game.

As the final tournament game was being played, Ryan was texting me updates every inning or two. The Mustangs started out with a 4-0 lead that grew to 7-1 in the third inning. Several minutes passed before I learned that a Trinity batter finally caught up with Easton's fast ball and sent it over the outfield wall for a three run homer. Deflated but not defeated, the Mustangs were now down by one run in the top of the fifth and final inning. If they didn't score in their half of the inning, the game and hopes for a ring would be over. How would they respond?

In just a few minutes I received the answer. The team had rallied back and scored the two runs that were needed to win the game. Now it was time to celebrate. And still it wasn't the moment I was most proud of.

There are lots of miles between Sammamish, Washington and Herriman, Utah. So many that the distance, along with that cancelled early-season tournament, made it so that I wouldn't get to see Easton play in a single game. And still, I saw him perform what I will long consider and remember to be the moment of the season when I was most proud of him.

It came at the end of the practice I attended back in early April. While most of the players were leaving and the equipment was being gathered to be put away, I saw something I'll never forget. I like to think of it of it as Easton's edge.

champ trophy

Before heading for home, Easton returned from the dugout and went to each of his coaches. One at a time he looked them in the eye, extended his hand to shake theirs, and thanked his coaches for a good practice and for being there for him and his teammates. It was a sign of his developing character and the respect he has for those who made it possible for him to be a part of the team. 

And it was something more as well. 

What I saw in that handshake was a symbol of remarkable parenting and the behavior of a respectful child. It"s true. Rings, championships, and trophies are all symbols of success. But the respect and gratitude expressed by my grandson in that short yet purposeful player to coach handshake is the moment I'll long remember. 

It was the highlight of the season and the time when I was most right about feeling proud!

Congratulations Mustangs!

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  • Ryan brooks
    Jul. 11, 2013

    Thank you for the notebooks! Easton received them last week and was very excited.

    Dad - thank you again for posting this story. It was an fun and exciting season and something Easton will cherish for a long time.
  • Mohammad Zahoor
    Jun. 27, 2013
    What a story! I felt the pride in every sentence and felt the presence in the field watching Easton myself....I hope to see Easton in UW uniform soon( my son asked me to add this line--smile)....GO Easton. I too feel very proud of your accomplishment. I am sending you a small note book that has this quote on it from Stephen Covey:
    Without involvement, there is no commitment. Mark it down, asterisks it, circle it, underline it. No involvement, no commitment.

    You are a prime example of involvement and commitment.
  • Aunt Judy E.
    Jun. 26, 2013
    Congrats Easton, even thugh we don't see eah other very often I follow your happenings. Maybe we'll get to see you when you come to visit Grandpa Brooks. Always keeping up with your life . Love you
  • Grandma Cindy
    Jun. 26, 2013
    Thanks Grandpa, my tear ducts needed a good cleaning out. Easton is sure growing up fast. And in just three short weeks, I’m going to get to pinch those sweet cheeks... Hurry up July.

The Fine Print

Rod Brooks (that's me) is VP & CMO of PEMCO Mutual Insurance Company and serves as Immediate Past Chair of the Board of Directors for the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA).  It's important to disclose both of those relationships and to be clear that this is my personal blog where I share thoughts and opinions that are solely my own.  Contact me!

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