22 Aug Raising our two sons – Creating lifelong memories through baseball
In this article, I reminisce and share stories about raising our two boys, their introduction to baseball, and how the game often took center stage in our household. We experienced baseball in many different ways, especially in those early years. And along the way, we created memories that will last a lifetime.
Recent road trip rekindles fond memories
Kevin and I recently hit the road for a few days to visit a longtime friend (Mike) in upstate New York. Realizing our friend was only an hour’s drive from the home of baseball’s Hall of Fame (HOF) in Cooperstown, we absolutely had to pay a visit as part of our week’s agenda. After all, it had been 26 years since Kevin and I last stepped on those hallowed baseball grounds (1996).
While Kevin and I thoroughly enjoyed that recent afternoon in Cooperstown, my mind drifted back to a time when we were all much younger and made that very first visit together as a family of four in 1996.
Welcome to Cooperstown!
By the time of that first family visit to Cooperstown in 1996, our sons Brian and Kevin were 12 and 10 years-old respectively. That trip was the highlight of our summer. Cooperstown is located in the foothills of the Catskills in upstate NY. If you’ve never been, I highly encourage a visit. Aside from baseball attractions, the town itself is very quaint, historic and picturesque.
That day in 1996 was spent touring the HOF as well as visiting the baseball shops and storefronts in town. One merchant provided an opportunity to select a team baseball uniform of your choice from the rack and pose for a photo with a superimposed baseball stadium in the background. How cool is that?? My choice was easy. I wore the old ‘English D’ uniform of the Detroit Tigers. Kevin suited up in a Seattle Mariners uniform and catcher’s gear. He was a Mariners fan at the time for good reason. Those mid 1990’s Mariners teams were loaded with talent with the likes of Ken Griffey Jr., A-Rod, Randy Johnson, Edgar Martinez and Jay Buhner. Brian chose to suit up in a NY Yankees uniform, but oddly, he chose their road uniform instead of the renowned home pinstripes.
That photo is one of my all-time favorites and still hangs proudly in my home office. But to this day, Brian still hasn’t cleared up the mystery of why he chose to wear the Yankees road uniform. We still share a good laugh as he gets an occasional ribbing from me for not donning the home pinstripes instead.
1984 – Welcome to fatherhood, ready or not!
From the very beginning, being a father is my most cherished role in life. It’s the most important title I’ve ever held. While being a grandpa to four beautiful grandkids today surely ranks right up there, fatherhood brings with it a steadfast sense of responsibility that requires 7×24 attention to detail. While it can sometimes be quite overwhelmingly, raising a child brings the greatest joy and sense of purpose to a parent. There is nothing better. As I wrote in my Father’s Day blog, I am extremely thankful to have had solid role models in my life in the form of my father, and my father-in-law up to that point so I could at least assemble some sort of ‘game plan’.
Early on, I was determined to inject a sense of balance into our sons’ lives. While schooling is of utmost importance for every child in those pivotal, developmental years, I also wanted to introduce the importance of socialization to our boys, both in forming friendships and relationships with their peers, as well as simply exploring and seeing the world around them and having some ‘fun’ along the way. To me, sports was a way to accomplish these objectives.
As a young father, I was especially eager to share my love of the game of baseball with our two sons, Brian and Kevin. I looked forward to the day when they were old enough to start playing tee-ball and to attend Tiger baseball games. By the time our first-born, Brian, arrived on May 16, 1984, I was already a passionate baseball fan, despite not participating and competing in tryouts throughout my elementary and high school years. During those years, I often enjoyed playing pickup baseball with my friends. Along the way, Major League Baseball (MLB) was the sport I gravitated to as a fan. By 1984, our hometown Detroit Tigers had grown and developed into a championship caliber team. They would go on to win the World Series that year. It was an exciting time to be a new father and a Tigers fan!
Kevin arrived on a snowy day on February 7, 1986. During those early years, spending time with the two boys was as good as life gets. Like all young families, Ruth and I were plenty busy with the kids, along with the usual work and family commitments. As they grew, I began to introduce them to sports; baseball in particular. Sitting together on the couch watching a televised game brought simple joy to our lives. Like many young fathers, I was probably a bit too anxious to put a baseball glove and bat in their hands at a very young age as they tried their best to catch and hit a ball in our backward. But the boys were always eager participants and ready to go.
Little League baseball eligibility at last!
At the age of 6, both Brian and Kevin began playing baseball at the tee-ball, then coach-pitch level. Soon after, it was pee-wee baseball at the age of 8 and their chance to see live pitching, learn the game, and develop skills. They both enjoyed the game and continued to play into their teen years.
For those of you that have been following us at KEVADVOTECH, you may know that Kevin suffered a life altering traumatic brain injury at the age of 15. Prior to his injury, Kevin enjoyed several years playing the Catcher position in our league play in Roseville, MI as well as Troy, MI, where we moved when he turned 13. Catcher is probably the most demanding position to play in baseball, and Kevin performed quite well. While other kids would often shy away from the opportunity to gear up and crouch behind the plate, Kevin embraced it. Along the way, he also alternated between Catcher, First Base and the Outfield.
Early on, I was presented the opportunity to coach their teams. While it can be a bit tricky and not always wise to coach your kid, I felt the benefits far outweighed the risks. For me, it was a chance to get to know the parents and kids my boys were hanging out with. And a bit selfishly, it was a chance for me to be there on the field with them at most every practice and game. I think I did my best not to show favoritism regarding their playing time. If anything, they may have suffered a little more bench time than they deserved, as I rotated in others off the bench.
If memory serves me correctly, I coached Brian’s teams his first two years of peewee ball (ages 8 and 9), then Kevin’s teams the following four years (ages 8 thru 12). I was quite fortunate to have an able and willing group of parents to deploy as part of my coaching staff each year, and longtime friend Jeff, who was there as my primary assistant during my six years of coaching.
It was quite special to have an on-field view as I watched the boys develop their skills and love of the game, as we together experienced the highs and lows of winning and losing as a team. And yes, everyone was quite competitive then, and winning was important to the boys and their teammates, even at their young age. But I was always proud of the fact that win or lose, we stood together as a team and showed proper respect to each other, as well as the competition.
Exploring baseball stadiums across the country
Throughout those early family years, we also made it a point to visit a different baseball stadium and attend an MLB game each summer while vacationing once the little league baseball season concluded. We had a pop-up camper that often served as home base for many of those family vacations. During a 10-year span, Ruth, Brian, Kevin and I attended games at Camden Yards (Baltimore), Fenway Park (Boston), old Veterans Stadium (Philadelphia), the SkyDome (Toronto), Turner Field (Atlanta), Jacobs Field (Cleveland), Three Rivers Stadium and PNC Park (Pittsburgh), Great America Ballpark (Cincinnati), Wrigley Field (Chicago Cubs), U.S. Cellular Field (Chicago White Sox), Anaheim Stadium (Los Angeles Angels), and a preseason game at Bank One Ballpark (Arizona Diamondbacks). We even visited some stadiums more than once.
During those annual trips, Ruth was there to ensure they were not just all about baseball. While our trips centered around baseball, Ruth’s influence made certain we included visits to cultural type activities such as museum tours and national historical sites. While dad (me) preferred all things sports, I admittingly enjoyed these other activities packed into our agendas.
It was fun planning those trips and we eagerly anticipated each one of them.
Being at the forefront of Fantasy Baseball
Today, online Fantasy sports leagues are commonplace. Millions of people participate in online leagues every season. But back in 1988, fantasy baseball was just starting to take root and very few even knew it existed or how it was played. I’ll never forget a conversation I had over coffee one morning with a friend and co-worker (Don). Don told me about this new “thing” that was emerging called “Fantasy Baseball.” The more he described it, the more I knew we had to pull a league together. This was going to be great!
I set up the league in early 1988, our inaugural season. Keep in mind that back then, everything was tracked and calculated manually. There was no internet. Personal computers (PC’s) were just beginning to become more available and in demand by the consumer. I didn’t buy my first PC until around 1991.
We set up a draft board in our basement and held a live draft each Spring where family members and friends gathered to build a team for the upcoming season. At the conclusion of each season, we held a post season party to crown the winner. It made for great camaraderie and was an opportunity to chide each other in good competitive fun, while the champion earned bragging rights through the cold winter ahead. Each offseason seemed to challenge us to start our scouting homework early for the upcoming season. Once the boys were a little older, our lives were filled with other commitments and eventually our fantasy league disbanded. But everyone involved would agree we built many fond memories to last a lifetime, and shared lots of laughs along the way.
And during all this time, Brian and Kevin continued to raise their baseball IQ by studying the game and its players, and they enjoyed being a part of it all. Yes, they were quite young but were as competitive and prepared for the draft as us grown adults in the room.
So where does baseball fit in our family life today?
While I have lost touch a bit over the past 10 years and couldn’t draft a competitive fantasy baseball team without a major cheat sheet, I still enjoy the game. While I’m no longer likely to attend more than one game of MLB during the regular season, I find it comforting to catch a few innings on TV each week. Or better yet, tuning into a game on the radio while driving or providing some background ambiance while doing outside chores around the house.
These days, I much prefer attending Spring Training games, or tuning into MLB’s post season. Being a part time Florida resident, access to ‘live’ preseason baseball is convenient and plentiful. The stadiums are much smaller and cozier, and the atmosphere is soothing. And besides, sitting in the stands in Lakeland, FL during a warm, sunny afternoon in March allow us Detroit Tiger fans to dare dream for a World Series championship for the upcoming season.
I also get to keep up with the game through the work our son, Brian Koss, as continues to advance his podcast interviewing and blog writing skills through his contributions to Legends on Deck, along with its Founder, David Conde. I always anticipate the interesting coverage he and David provides their audience as they continue to introduce people that are passionate about the game. Whether they are talking to a prospect hoping to someday get to the big leagues, or interviewing people who have dedicated their careers to coaching at various levels of the minor leagues or internationally, Brian and David continue to provide unique insights and bring inspiring stories to life.
Igniting the spark for the next generation
I’m proud and pleased that now as a young father himself, Brian has since introduced and shared his love of the game with his son, George. What excites me most today is watching and hearing about the game through the eyes and mouth of our young grandson, George, who turns 7 in September. I take great pride and pleasure watching as he enjoys the game, whether he’s on the field or telling me about the game’s best major league players of today. George has also immersed himself into learning the history of the game and its many great ballplayers. He collects and studies baseball cards and is quick to share how some of the all-time greats performed during their careers. George’s curiosity and passion for the game is contagious. He has given me reason to follow the game more closely once again.
God willing, I look forward to many more years watching from the bleachers as George continues to grow and develop skills in the game he has quickly grown to love. Perhaps one of our three young granddaughters will take up the game as well. That would be great.