A hard loss

Published 9:33 am Friday, November 22, 2013

Watching Southampton Academy lose this past Friday wasn’t easy. It was especially difficult to see how some of the young men took the loss, after having such a great season. And despite being runner up for the championship, I do believe it was a great season.

As a reporter, you try not to get attached. But in small-town journalism, that’s a little tougher because you want to build a deeper connection with the community. I like the coach and the young men I’ve talked to on the team. So, it was easy to feel the moment when they were getting emotionally choked up after the game — especially when Head Coach Dale Marks lost his composure when talking to his students during their final huddle of the season. It was comforting to see Cam Hines and Tonee Hill come to his side, as well. I had avoided taking pictures of the athletes in tears after the game, but that particular one I snapped. I thought it was a great moment.

While watching the scene after the game, it reminded me of times I had come up short in my youth.

We did not have youth football in the Louisiana community I grew up in, at least at that time, but we did have youth baseball.

I played from t-ball all the way until we moved to Mississippi. I even continued for part of the year after the move to Mississippi, but the commute during the summer was tough, so we had to stop.

When I first started, they put me in, you guessed it — right field. And I’m pretty sure I was batting near the bottom of the order. I stunk, and not typical rolling around in ditches little boy smell, I mean I wasn’t good at any aspect of the game. I couldn’t catch. I couldn’t throw. I couldn’t hit. I wasn’t even good at being big — I was one of the smaller children until later on when I was a teenager. The only thing I could do was run, so they put me out there where I could in theory cover some space, while I’m sure the coaches were also hoping nothing was actually hit to me.

I even had a nickname: Space. It was because I would stand out there and stare into space daydreaming the whole game. There were not a lot of left-handed players, so the ball rarely came to me.

I don’t even remember how the seasons went at that age. I couldn’t have cared less about it except it was a cool thing to do with my friends, especially getting food and going to the arcade after the games, win or lose.

It wasn’t until after coach-pitch that I started caring, when they started doing tryouts and picking teams with us actually there that the embarrassment started to kick in. I wasn’t picked last, but I was definitely near the bottom. Even worse, I was picked lower than all of my friends.

I got mad. I wanted to quit. But after rationalizing that I couldn’t quit, as the joking would get worse, and after all, my parents had already bought all of the expensive equipment.

So I put effort into it, and I got stronger, faster and mentally tougher. I’m not going to say I became the league or even my team MVP. I played with Jarrett Hoffpauir, who briefly played for the St. Louis Cardinals. His brother, Josh, was in the league as well, and he later played in the Texas Rangers’ farm system. To put it lightly, I had my work cut out for me in regards to becoming MVP.

But that’s not to say that things didn’t change. Eventually, I can’t recall what year it was, I was promoted to third base — a much more glorious position. And I hit for a pretty good average, though I never had any home run power. I did, however, earn spots in the 1 and 2 holes in the lineup, due to batting average and speed.

While none of the skills I earned in youth baseball are directly relatable to my life now, some of the intangibles are.

Now, when things pile and pile and then continue to pile up at work, I hardly sweat it because I know from many past examples that I can handle whatever life throws at me and make it out just fine on the other side. There were many examples in the past, including youth baseball, where I wasn’t the biggest child, where life threw unfair situations at me, and I came out on the other end just fine.

I remember one time in college, when the tests were piling up in the same week (I swear, professors get together at the beginning of the semester over cocktails and laugh about making life difficult for one student, usually me), and all of my reporters were dropping every single story they had agreed to write. As news editor, I was still responsible for filling my pages, and I remember my editor-in-chief looking at me and asking why I wasn’t stressed out. I couldn’t really answer her at the time. Thinking back, however, it’s partially because I failed early on in life.

None of this is to say that I do not still fail at things today. Some of my failures are actually quite public, so I couldn’t even consider denying that. I don’t believe it’s not about making mistakes, as even The New York Times, with hundreds of staff members, makes mistakes and has to run corrections. I believe it is about how you recover from the failure, how each one makes you better, and how you use it to not make the same mistake again.

Back to Southampton Academy. I believe the players coming back will take this experience, and they will be all the better for it next year. They will get physically stronger and be better prepared mentally to handle the pressure. And those moving on will take the experience and grow stronger in whatever they do moving forward.

Winning certainly would have been better, but losing isn’t necessarily the worst thing one can do in life. It only is if you let it trap you.

CAIN MADDEN is the managing editor of The Tidewater News. He can be reached at 562-3187 or by email at cain.madden@tidewaternews.com