I am not from Roanoke. I am not from Southwest Virginia, or even the East Coast. I am wife to a post-military man, and together, we have a post-military family. Before moving to Southwest Virginia, the last place we were from was Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. Before that, it was Gaithersburg, Maryland, and before that? I barely remember.
But what I do remember is growing up in a place not much different than Roanoke – that is, if you trade the mountains for plains and the trees for corn and wheat fields. But the communities are so similar – warm, welcoming, family-oriented – and I have often caught myself wondering since moving here almost two years ago now, if maybe I really had moved home.
Well, I used to wonder, but I don’t question it anymore. I know the answer. And if there has been any single experience to cement this knowing, it was our boys’ baseball season last summer with the Roanoke County Parks & Recreation League.
This is it. My summer has officially been swallowed up by baseball. That was my thought as I sat slumped over my computer reading and re-reading the email from my boys’ All-Stars coach’s wife, hoping maybe I’d read it wrong. It was a food assignment list for each family and because I had two boys playing on the team, I had double the food to bring.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, it is a tradition in Little League Baseball for the players and families of both teams to share a meal after each All-Stars game, with the home team playing host. A noble tradition, to be sure, but as I sat there re-reading while simultaneously rubbing smooth the deepening furrow between my brows, I could have taken all that noble Little League tradition and left it for someone else to appreciate, much like the expensive water bottles my boys continually left in the dugout for some other family to take home, sanitize and enjoy.
I was already fairly exhausted from the long regular season. Our family started Roanoke Co. baseball with both boys on the same minor league team, coached by my husband. Our (read, my) strategic efforts of streamlining our baseball season quickly took a turn to the complicated, however, when – in classic baseball fashion – one son was “called up” to play with a major league team plagued by injury. This is when I realized we weren’t just playing sweet little “rec league” ball. Oh no. What we had done, by default of moving to Southwest Roanoke County, was sign on with the pinnacle of all youth sports: Little League Baseball.
There are a number of leagues a community’s recreational department can adopt as their own: American Legion, Dixie League, Babe Ruth – the list goes on. Southwest Roanoke County happens to support Little League Baseball: a world unto itself, where strong competition (understatement), a tight set of rules (that rival those of the MLB), and emphasis on sportsmanship combine to produce players and teams who are models of their motto: Character, Courage, Loyalty.
By the end of the regular season, I had to admit my boys were genuine Little Leaguers. Both had a great experience, having grown in both baseball prowess and character. And despite my hand-wringing over the inconvenience of them playing on different teams, I loved watching each one perform at the level best suited for him. Maybe that’s why when we were approached by the U-11 (under 11 years old) All-Stars coach requesting both boys play on his team, and then overheard the boys’ excited chatter about playing together again, I caved. After all, it would only be three more weeks. Our league hadn’t sent a U-11 team to the state-level tournament in years – maybe ever! By the beginning of July we’d be done – easy day.
Well, it wasn’t an easy day as I sat at my desk thinking about preparing two extra meals and watching my summer float away, like the dust kicked up from a slide at home plate. And it wasn’t an easy day as I sat for two hours, night after night shifting my weight on metal bleachers, with my heart about choking me, watching our babies – my boys and all my new baseball-mom friends’ boys – play beyond themselves; pieces of their little souls strewn all over the field, in the batter’s box, behind the plate, and on the mound.
Then we actually won! And every day until deep into July became more of the same: not easy days.
But it was all worth it. After each district game, as opposing teams and their families stood under the pavilion – enemies only moments before – with hats hanging from folded hands as dozens of matted-haired, sweaty heads bowed, thanking God for baseball and our boys, asking for His blessing and His grace, I knew it was worth it. When I smiled into the faces of “enemy” moms looking thankful as I served them lasagna, and commended “enemy” boys on a game well played, I knew it was worth it. And when the sun had long set and we parents were still cavorting with one another while our children played a raucous game of soccer – red and black baseball jerseys all intermingled creating a kaleidoscope at play – I knew it was worth it.
More importantly, I knew I had come home.