My Baseball Buddy This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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Jack is a 10-year-old who changed my life. I met him three years ago, when I was without a care in the world for anyone but myself. Today, I have a totally different perspective. I'm not perfect. I'm not selfless. However, Jack turned my life around on that warm spring day. After meeting him, I became more aware of what I said, how I acted, and my attitude toward life.

The snow was starting to melt and winter and spring were in a furious brawl. As I walked home from the bus stop that day, my mind was elsewhere. I was thinking about what to wear to an upcoming birthday party, if that cute boy in my homeroom had been looking at me like my friend said he was, and what we'd be eating for dinner that night. Walking into my house, I noticed my dad fiddling with the DVD player. I started complaining how hard my work was, how awful my teachers were, how annoying my brother was, how long and unbearable the walk home had been. I was even complaining about my father not listening to me. At 12, I was unbelievably self-centered. My father pressed the play button and walked out of the room, leaving me to watch a film.

I will never forget that movie. My eyes filled with tears as images of mentally and physically challenged children playing baseball flashed across the screen. I learned about Challenger, a program that gives these children the chance to play baseball on a team with the help of “buddies.” Some buddies act as eyes for the visually impaired, legs for those who can't walk, a friend to the mentally challenged, and a role model for all. Challenger not only gives the children a team to play on, but a sense of belonging that they may lack in their difficult life.

After the short film ended, my father asked what I thought about Challenger. I shrugged and said, “It sounds cool, I guess.” He explained that he was going to be adding this program to our town's baseball and softball leagues, since he was president of the league. I suddenly became much more interested.

At dinner that night, my family discussed Challenger. My older brother was interested in volunteering as a buddy. I was not excited about the thought of giving up my free time to volunteer. Noticing my behavior, my father told me he expected me to help as well. Between my faltered “uh's” and “um's” my father declared that he didn't really care what I wanted; he was making me volunteer.

I spent a few weeks complaining and worrying about the first practice. My father had been too busy organizing the program, recruiting players, and ordering uniforms to deal with me. Often it was my mother who listened to my complaints. She always said that I was being selfish. I ignored her since I was busy worrying about the initial awkwardness of not knowing how to interact with a special needs child. I was frightened of the responsibility.

As Sunday approached, I became overwhelmed with nerves. I sat with my dad and other volunteers waiting for the players to arrive. A few cars pulled up, and some players were introduced to their buddies. We had more volunteers than players, and I thought for a moment I wouldn't be needed. Just as I sighed with relief, I saw a car pull up. My stomach flipped into knots as I watched a cute little boy jump out of his mother's van and walk with her to the field. My father introduced himself to the boy and his mother and called me.

Knees shaking, palms sweating, tongue dry, I shuffled over. “This is my daughter, Amy. She's going to be your buddy for the season. Is that okay, Jack?” my father said with a smile. Jack hid behind his mother's leg. Instantly I was crushed. He doesn't like me! Oh boy, this will be a long season.

I spent most of the first practice sitting with Jack and his mother as we got to know each other. Jack has development issues in his leg muscles, causing him to walk on the balls of his feet, which makes him unbalanced and wobbly. He also has a speech delay, so he speaks slowly and can be hard to understand. When the practice ended, Jack's mother thanked me and said they'd be back next week.

Later that evening, my mother asked me about my player. I angrily replied, “He doesn't even like me; this program is a waste of my time.” I stormed off, still selfishly concerned only about myself. This anger stuck with me until the second practice.

That Sunday when I saw Jack arrive, I became frustrated. I remember thinking, Why am I wasting my time when he doesn't even like me? I can't understand him anyway; he's probably just as frustrated with me. I bet he hates me. However, I reminded myself that I was there to help him. That practice and the next few were painfully awkward and difficult. I didn't know what to say to him. I was scared that I would embarrass myself. I was frustrated and discouraged. However, I was determined to make this boy like me. Unfortunately, I was still focused on myself, wanting to prove that I was likeable.

As the weeks passed, I learned a lot about Jack. I grew to understand his physical limitations, what made him laugh, and how to teach him. Things started to change in me. I was suddenly excited for practice. I loved spending time with him, because I loved to see him smile. Watching Jack laugh brought me such joy, the feeling was inexplicable.

Through Jack, I started to understand the difficulty of living life with developmental challenges. There were times when Jack got frustrated because I couldn't understand him. There were times I was frustrated that Jack couldn't do things like I could. In spite of these challenges, a bond formed between us. My outlook on life changed because of Jack. I stopped complaining about practice because I knew it was my time to go make him happy. I also slowly stopped complaining about a lot of things. Every time I got mad or frustrated, I would think, What about Jack? Jack made me appreciate what I had and not take things for granted. Through his eyes, I started to gain a different understanding of life.

I worked with Jack for several years, and each year I learned more life lessons. I thought this program would be a waste of time I would dread every week, but it has turned out to be the best experience of my life – and one that I look forward to continuing. I have gained so much more than I have given.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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