A Letter To My 17 Year Old Son Who Turned 6 Today

Dear Rex,

It's crazy to think you're turning 17 today.

It really is amazing how time flies.  I can still sense the excitement as I heard the nurse say… “This little boy has orange hair!”

It seems like yesterday it was May 18th, 2016 and you were just turning six years old. From the time you were a baby, all you ever wanted to do was play ball.  Everywhere you went you'd be carrying bats twice the size of you.

I can remember pulling into the driveway and seeing your little orange head peeking out the window.  You always gave it away with the curtains crashing down and Mom yelling in the background.

I knew that any second, you were going to come bursting out the front door dressed from head to toe in your favorite pin-strip Cubs uniform with WHEELER written in red letters across the back.

You'll be dragging a bat that's' almost as tall as you and carrying a glove that's twice the size of your head.

How do I know?

Easy son, it's been that way since I can remember.  Honestly, I can't remember ever seeing you without a bat or ball in your hand. 

 

And I know the first thing you're going to ask me is…

”Dad, will you throw to me?”

And you knew what I was going to say…Sure, bud!

This was an everyday occurrence. Regardless of the weather, this was our routine.

We'd pack up and head over to the little field. Looking back, I still see you as that little boy. You always pulled your hat and glasses down so far, your little ears would bend over.

And every single time I'd pick up the balls and head to the mound, you'd start smiling from ear to ear.  This is why I did it.

I was selfish.

=

But –

It never got old seeing the pure joy and excitement this game brought to you. It was contagious and I can only wish I had one more day, but we know that's not going to happen.

Because you're seventeen years old today.

However, I was wise enough with you to learn from my mistakes and I can truly say I soaked in every second of every minute I spent with you on and off the baseball field.

Every time I look at you I still see the little boy.'

I can remember me asking you to make me a promise…

“Rex, do me a favor buddy and stay four forever, will you?”  

And you'd always say yes.

5 years old would arrive and I'd ask again...

“Rex, do me a favor and stay five forever, will you buddy? But you surprised me and I'll never forget what you said.

“Dad, I tried to stay four but I keep getting taller.”  I know you did buddy!  

I can still hear the bat slam against the ground as you were getting ready to hit and it never failed that you called to be the Cubs, and I was the dreaded Cardinals.

And I know why you were such a huge Cubs fan, who wouldn't be after getting the chance to throw at Wrigley Field. (Here's a video of Rex on his 4th Birthday throwing with Justin Grimm.)  

Here's another video of Rex throwing at 5 years old with Neil Ramirez.  

From the very beginning, I had a plan for you.

A very simple plan…Get the “Hell out of the way!”

As a college baseball coach, I'd seen it all and I knew that the biggest obstacle for most kids was the three letter word, Dad.

I learned a long time ago kids don't listen to Dad because they're Dad... Kids don't listen to their Dad because they don't FEEL like their Dad is listening to them.

I wasn't going to let that happen.

So, from the very first swing you ever took, the only instructions you ever heard were…

Swing it as hard as you can! I don't care if you hit it or not!”

“Throw it as hard as you can, I don't care where it goes!”

In fact, you almost got us fined by the neighborhood association when they saw the red-neck swimming pool I'd placed in the yard for you. Each day, we would go out and I'd tell you to try and break a hole in the pool. By the time you were three, the pool was filled with shrapnel.  

And here's how I taught you to hit... Even though I knew absolutely nothing about hitting.

Truth be told, I could never hit. "You'd seen better swings on a porch."

Luckily for both of us I learned the importance of Intent early in my coaching career from Paul Nyman.  He's the guy that would headline Pitch-a-Palooza each year where you'd get the chance to meet the top college coaches, and pitching minds in the country.

I'd already decided that if God were to give me a little boy, this would be our plan, and here's why…

#1: I wanted to hammer the importance of the process.

  • I wanted you to focus on the things inside your control and forget about the results. We can't control the results and the last thing I wanted you to do was associate “Praise” with results. Because I didn't want you thinking Dad was only ‘proud' of you for something that you couldn't control.
  • I wanted you to know that I'm proud of you because you gave it everything you could. You controlled what you could control and let go of the things outside of your control.

That's why you'd get the biggest praise and ovations from me, when you'd swing – miss – and fall down. And before every pitch you'd hear me ask the same question…

How hard can you swing?

#2: My only job as a Dad was to “Praise the Intent”.

I wasn't about to fill your head with useless cues, or ‘how to' instruction.  I'd seen it way too many times and the coaches and parents doing this, were the same ones constantly plagued by frustration.

People often looked at me like I was crazy when I'd share the advice. The wondered why in the world I'd be clapping because you fell down and missed the ball by 5 feet.

For some reason or another, people at that time felt like every kid needed a ‘master teacher'.  They had no clue that the master teacher, was them.  Instead they sought out instruction and then wondered why there were constantly starting over.  Frustrated every time they'd ask the same question, but get 15 different answers from 15 different sources.

  • They had no idea how important the early years were to development.
  • They really didn't understand the almighty importance of “Intent to throw hard”

But, you and I did, didn't we buddy!

  1. More than anything, it allowed you to consistently be placed in a Win/Win situation.
  2. Plus, I knew from experience that baseball is a game of failure.
  3. I knew that in Life you you will never be able to control the results, only the process.
  4. And the same principles applied to baseball.

Crazy to think people had no idea how important this was to your development later in Life.

Sad to think so many never realized it until it was too late…You Become Your Intent

And the concepts you were taught were so simple.  Maybe that was the real issue?

People wanted a complicated answer.  It's if they wanted to be confused, talked down to and made to feel a fool.

Think about it son…

  • You throw hard because you always tried to throw hard.
  • You hit it further because you always tried to hit it further…

It's the same reasons I constantly preached you to be courteous and respectful to your elders…

Everyone would agree that you teach kids manners and respect early in Life, in hopes that it shapes the young boy that grows into a man.  But for some reason or another, they didn't FEEL it applied to the sport of baseball.  I guess we were lucky, because it gave you such a HUGE advantage over the other kids.

Travel Ball

I can remember the day you walked into the downstairs office telling me how some of your older friends in the neighborhood were playing on a ‘real team', as you called it.

They had real trophies and real coaches.

That's The Day I Explained How I Played Travel Ball Back In The Early 80's

I explained how my travel ball schedule consisted of jumping on my Huffy bicycle and heading over to one of our friends' neighborhood.

  • We'd grab a tennis ball…
  • Make up a few rules depending on the amount of players…
  • And we'd play until the streetlights came on.

And the next thing I know, there you were doing the same thing.

But –

You took it a step further than I ever did, when you…

Hired The Legendary Coach Gene!

We'd never see you without a ball or bat in your hand.

But then came the day, you walked in sweating, face red and looked like you were about to die.  I asked you what you'd been doing and you said you'd been playing with Coach Gene.

Coach Gene?

Let's just say your mother and I were a bit worried at first.

It scared us because you were only three years old and we didn't know anyone named Gene. (Mandy and I actually started trolling the neighborhood asking if anyone had seen a white paneled ice cream van, with a driver that goes by the name Gene.)

Eventually you grew out of that stage and Gene ended up being fired for smoking cigarettes.

True story.

But – the really cool part about it all was you had an entirely imaginary roster that included a catcher named Carlos, who would fly up from Texas and play with your team, even though he was forty-one years old.

In fact – You had a name for every player on the field, and those names never changed.  Heck, you even hosted birthday parties for the guys.  And who could forget Gilbert?  Gilbert played outfield and poor ole' Gilbert had to have been cut at least five or six different times.

It never stopped with you.  It was constant.  Baseball. Baseball. Baseball.

Looking Back Over The Years

There was always something different about you.

It's what separated you from all the other kids and that was your determination and passion for the game of baseball. You possessed a characteristic that I've found apparent with some of the greatest players I've ever coached.

It was your desire to “Compete in Empty Rooms!”

And what I mean by that is:

  • The best players I've ever coached went about the game the same way regardless of who was watching.
  • They weren't competing to get the credit, or the praise.
  • They didn't care who watched or noticed.

In other words, they went about their business the same way all the time. Whether they were competing in the World Series, or an empty room… It didn't matter.

Even when you would hit with the ‘pro' guys after sitting their patiently for three hours, it was worth it to you.  You'd pick up a bat that weighed as much as you and swing with all your might.  

You'd swing so hard, you'd fall down every single time.

And then each year we'd head to Wrigley Field and the guys you sat so patiently watching Dad work with in the winter time, would get you on the field and throw with you... (Here's Rex with Neil & Justin at Wrigley.)

And when you weren't playing, you were thinking about playing tomorrow. There weren't many nights that went by that you didn't lay out your uniform for the next day.

I can remember me and Mom looking out our office window and seeing you, barely able to walk because the catcher's equipment swallowed you.  

I remember coming out and asking you who you were playing – “I”m playing myself”, you'd say.

And I've got to admit, I was worried at times about your math skills, 'cause it never failed for you to hit 10 HR in 3 Ab's and you better believe, you won every single game you played.

Here's you beating the Orioles 162-0

However, there's something I need to admit.

The main reason I did all of those for you was because I was selfish.

I knew this day would come when I looked into the backseat and my little boy had grown into a young man.

And I wanted to make sure I gave you every opportunity to excel at the game you've loved for so long.

And here you are.

You still love the game. You're healthy and most importantly, our relationship has grown even stronger due to our time spent on the baseball field, unlike so many other dads.

To add icing on the cake, you'll listen to me and allow me to train you just like I coach my MLB clients.

And you do this, not because I'm your Dad. You do this because you trust me.

You know I love you and every moment we spent on the baseball field was a positive one.  

Looking back, you were always ahead of others your age.

When you weighed 38 pounds at five years old, you could throw the ball 40 MPH  

You could hit the ball 125 feet at 5 years old:

My favorite memories weren't watching you throw or hit, it was watching you laugh and smile.

It never failed that you would grow tired of hitting after a few pitches and then you'd say…

“Try to tag me Dad!”

And I would.

You would start laughing so hard, out of just pure excitement that you would fall down. I can see you now, looking over your shoulder before sliding into all four bases.

Looking back those were the days.

  • Baseball not only made you and I better people, baseball brought us closer.
  • Baseball is something we've always done together and its something you'll be doing with your kids.

Sadly, there's not a lot of Father/Son's out there that can say that.

As I look at you today, I still see the little boy walking around in a full Cubs uniform and that will never change.

I'm blessed to have a little boy like you and every second I have with you I promise to give it my all… Because the Lord knows you do!

I know from experience you'll be 17 very soon and when that day comes, I'll know we made every second of every minute count.

Because from the very start you came first, and I knew from experience the most effective way to develop any kid starts with Love and from there you simply…

Think With The End In Mind & Work Backwards!

Luckily for me you're still 6 years old and by pretending that every day is your 17th birthday and it could be the last of our days playing together I want you to know something.

I love you.

Happy 6th Birthday buddy! Dad

P.S:  I can only hope that this article brought you as much joy as it has myself.

Because it's Rex birthday, I'm holding a 6 day sale where every product found on BaseballThinkTank will be 25% off for the next 6 days.  Sale dates – May 18 – May 24

Just type in the promo code – REX  (all caps) 

P.S.S:  I'd like to give a special thanks to the following guys for shooting Rex such special birthday messages!  

Anthony Rizzo

 

 

Kris Bryant

 

 

Ryan Braun

 

 

Neil Ramirez

 

 

Justin Grimm

 

 

Addison Russell

 

 

Derek Johnson

 

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