Last week, John attended a baseball camp. It was only four days, but it was run by college and semi-pro players. We thought it would be fun for John since he missed T-ball this summer because of this moving hoo-haw.
On the first day, he jammed his Dairy-Queen-sponsored giveaway Twins hat on his thick yellow curls and pulled on his size-too-small sneakers, the kind that don't have laces, or even Velcro. He sat on his glove the whole way there.
He was the youngest of 10 kids. All of the other kids were wearing t-shirts or even jerseys from teams they'd played on, and almost all were wearing sliding pants and stirrups. About half had spikes.
My heart sank.
The first practice was painful to watch. During the throwing drills, the kids stood far enough apart that John wasn't quite strong enough to throw to his partner. During the hitting drills, the coaches gave him so many pointers ("OK, squish the bug with your back leg, lift your elbow, pick up your foot but not too early, etc.") that John, a truly natural hitter, was swinging and missing everything. His hair was in his eyes. it was 85 and humid, and his face was bright red the whole time.
After it was over, I sent John to the car and talked with the coach. I told him the skill level was higher than expected and that maybe John shouldn't come the next day, because he seemed so outclassed. The coach was adamant that John should come back.
Back at the car, John was sitting in on his glove with his eyes closed, clearly exhausted. I asked him how he'd liked it, and he said he'd had a great time and couldn't wait until tomorrow and when we got home, he would show me how to throw a ball really far and how to set up to bat.
The next few days, I dropped him off and ran errands -- partly because I had errands to run, and partly because I had trouble watching him try to keep up. I know he did fine. One thing that annoyed me, though, was that when it was time to move from drill to drill, John didn't hustle. He'd walk, toss his glove in the air, chase a butterfly a bit and get there in his own sweet time. Which, really, is fine -- he IS six and a half -- but I would have liked to have seen a little hurry-up when the coach said "move."
On the last day, John told me to get back from errands early so I could watch him in the scrimmage at the end of practice. I did so, and saw him get a single. When the next batter forced a double play, John tried to run back to first from second. I winced, expecting cat calls from the kids, but nothing -- no biggie, he was out anyway, the inning was over.
Back at the dugout, the coaches pulled out t-shirts and baseballs to autograph and pop. Then one held up a practice bat and balls and said "Guys! Listen up! We've got awards to give out!"
They were not soft: Not everybody got an award. The first award, the Charlie Hustle Award, was given to the kid who showed the most hustle during the camp
That kid, they said, was John.
All the boys applauded and cheered. John was so proud he could hardly smile. He took the practice bat and balls and said "Thank you" and walked back to his seat. He looked at his prize as they awarded the MVP.
The pride he felt in himself was so clear.
Afterwards, I talked to one of the college kids, who told me that John had been hit twice with a ball during camp, once in the face and once in the chest, and after a tear or two and a drink of water, he'd come right back in and keep trying, which is why they gave him the award. "He worked really, really hard," he said. "He earned it."
I love those guys. But not as much as I love John.
The college kids and coaches autographed the baseballs for the kids. On John's, the coach wrote " 'Hustle' ".
"That's my baseball name," John said as we drove home. "I have other nicknames, but Hustle is my baseball name."