How I accidentally raised a professional athlete
"Mom, when are you going to get me tennis lessons?" my precocious preschooler asked, again. Tennis lessons? I didn't play. Neither did his dad. Our "tennis" was hitting a ball back and forth across the cul-de-sac at the end of our driveway while we waited for his 6-year-old sister's school bus.
I scooped up the missed ball and whacked it back to him, laughing, "Adam, I already told you, nobody teaches 3-year-olds tennis."
"Why not? I want tennis lessons."
He might as well have added, "because you stink at this game."
Sadly true. His dad and I lacked the hand-eye coordination, speed and agility with which he had been blessed. Although we delighted in our little genetic anomaly's athleticism, we were bookish, artsy types who didn't play team sports growing up. How ironic, then, that we had a son who loved every sport he met. And they all loved him back.
We'd randomly toss Adam wiffle balls -- which he'd whop with a blue plastic bat -- or kick around a junior-sized soccer ball on our front lawn. Just our speed. But apparently Adam already had some inkling that our speed was subpar.
So I made a few calls and found a little summer tennis club that offered a clinic for 4- to 6-year-olds. Signing his sister up, I explained that Adam was tall and coordinated for his age. The tennis pro's noncommittal reply hinted he'd heard my line before: "Bring him by and we'll see what he can do."
Adam hit ball after ball back over the net. He was in! When the clinic ended I asked, "What am I supposed to do now, get him private lessons?"
"You could," the club's owner replied, noting Adam's talent. But then he talked about how he'd seen parents start their kids too early and by the time they were 9 or 10, the kids were burned out. "If I were you," he said, "I'd let him play whatever he wants and then decide in a few years if he still wants to play tennis competitively."
So that's exactly what we did. Adam chose soccer in the fall, basketball in winter and baseball in the spring. Tennis, swimming and golf rounded out summer vacations. Skating and skiing made winter vacation appearances.
By the time he'd turned 7, team sports and the pint-sized camaraderie that came with them became the center of his universe. Adam dropped tennis. When he asked in middle school, we added in hitting and pitching clinics to his one-sport-a-season schedule. Adam dropped soccer in high school and added weight training.
Invitations to summer travel teams followed. As we made plane and hotel reservations to baseball destinations that became our family vacations, we would ask Adam only one serious question: "Are you still having fun?"
His answer was always yes.
Soon, we found ourselves sitting in fabulous first-baseline seats inside an empty Fenway Park. Behind home plate sat 70 or more MLB scouts and college coaches training radar guns on every pitch. Adam was 16. He'd been invited to a showcase for New England baseball players.
We eaves dropped while we watched the other athletes, hearing phrases like "D1 versus D2" and "SEC versus ACC." The more we overheard, the more foreign the language felt.
"Adam Ravenelle" boomed from the press box and out he trotted from the bullpen. We cringed as he threw a wild pitch that sailed over the catcher's head. The next few went over the plate. Had he done OK? We had no idea. Anne Marie Yastrzemski, Carl's daughter-in-law and the showcase organizer, whispered reassuringly, "They're talking about Adam." Whew!
On the drive home, he described waiting for his turn in the bullpen. "I just sat there and listened to guys talk about their dad or uncle or grandfather who'd played in the minors or majors." My "attaboy" compliments hid the growing angst I felt about how our lack of baseball knowhow must be seriously handicapping our son.
A few months later, Adam made a verbal commitment to play for Vanderbilt. A year and a half after that, the Yankees took him in the 40th round of the 2011 MLB Draft. He stuck with Vanderbilt.
When we visited him there in the fall of his sophomore year, we pressed for details beyond baseball. We wanted to hear about classes or maybe Nashville's country music scene, but Adam offered, "Oh, I played some tennis with guys from the tennis team. They said, 'Dude, you're playing the wrong sport!'"
"Hey, your choice, bud, not ours," I quipped.
Now he's pitching for Detroit's Lakeland Flying Tigers. We've learned to speak baseball (passably) and we still exhale to every swing that evades a 95-mph heater. All we know for sure is that baseball has always been Adam's journey. We're just enjoying the ride.
Edie Ravenelle is a writer, editor and marketing communications consultant who lives west of Boston. Her marketing work has appeared in regional news media, and her creative work can be found at Exhale.com, BannerBiz (Bay State Banner), and NPR's Remembrance Project.