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I used to be a pretty good softball pitcher. That’s a totally lame thing to say, kind of like “I used to be an excellent lawn-mower.” It wasn’t really anything impressive — just rec-league, slow-pitch kind of stuff — but I was on a good team. We used to enter out-of-town tournaments and win. We even played single-pitch tournaments, the kind where the pitcher only gives the batter one pitch. If it’s a ball, you walk. If you hit it foul, you’re out. One chance. That’s a lot of pressure, even for a slow-pitch guy. And I was good at it.
I couldn’t hit much, other than slap singles. Wasn’t that great in the field. But I could pitch. That was my thing.
Then my daughter was born. Our first child.
She arrived the first week of April, right at the beginning of softball season. We spent our requisite two nights in the hospital and then took her home. The first time I left the house after that, leaving my wife and newborn at home, was for the first game of our softball season. I took the mound, missing her already.
And I couldn’t throw a strike to save my life. Seriously, it was horrible. I asked the team to replace me a couple of innings later after issuing multiple walks. Multiple walks IN SLOW-PITCH SOFTBALL.
I never got my pitching mojo back. Never. Some sort of crazy mental block developed and I could no longer toss a softball over the plate. Without the ability to do much else in the game, I gave it up. I haven’t played on a softball team since that season mercifully ended, 11 years ago.
Fatherhood ruined my game. I gained a daughter but lost my ability to play. It’s a great trade, of course, and I’d give up my meager softball skill again and again for my daughter, and I really don’t even miss it, but still…that’s weird, right?
The English golfer Luke Donald is currently ranked number one in the world. He won the BMW PGA Championship in May, which is the biggest tournament of the European tour. He says there are a lot of things that have contributed to his recent success, but the main one is the mental change that has resulted from the birth of his daughter, Elle. She’s 15 months old.
“Since Elle was born, my golf has only gone from strength to strength,” said Donald, whose wife Diane is expecting their second child in November. “It’s been a real blessing to become a father. I think it’s given me a lot more responsibility as a person. I think I’ve become a better person, as well.
“My daughter is the best. She sleeps 12 hours every night. When I come home after finishing second or something I can forget about it pretty quickly when I’ve got that little face smiling back at me.
“I’ve been able to do that through some of the disappointments, put things behind me. She really is an inspiration, watching her grow and learn new skills. That’s all I’m trying to do at golf, as well – just trying to figure out a way to improve. She does that every day.”
I agree that being able to come home to a “little face smiling back at me” can certainly put athletic accomplishments into perspective, but I’m struggling to relate to Mr. Donald. Clearly it’s because my ability to pitch a softball and his ability to win world championships are so closely related.
How about you? Am I crazy? Has fatherhood impacted your performance on the field, at the office, or in some unrelated discipline?