I know the death of 2-year-old Henry Berlin at a T-ball practice on Tuesday has saddened many in this community. I thought briefly about making this my column subject tomorrow, but in the end decided it too personal. I don’t wish to push these thoughts on anyone. I simply felt compelled to write them as a father who has coached more T-ball games than I can count, and probably seen more close calls than I can count, too.
I cannot think of a more heartbreaking incident on a baseball field than what happened to 2-year-old Henry Berlin on Tuesday.
He ran to his older sister, who was swinging a bat. It hit him in the chest.
His funeral is tomorrow morning.
I do not know the parents. I do not know the coaches, who are part of the co-ed T-ball program for 4- and 5-year-olds at the YMCA. I don’t know anyone at the church, whose ball fields were being used for the practice.
But I do know them, too. Because I have been a T-ball coach for a few years. I have had a 2-year-old — one named Henry, in fact — skirting around a ball field.
And I have seen more close calls than I can count.
And most other folks who have coached T-ball or youth baseball, or even just been to many practices or games, have seen them, too.
I’ve been an arm’s length away from potential disaster, but somehow the unthinkable didn’t happen.
I suppose on some level, I’ve watched little ones tumble or escape or land on heads and pop back up and toddle on so often that I grew to feel that something was protecting them somewhere. Had to be. They move here to there quick as the breeze, and as a mom or dad you’re in chase mode almost all the time. None of us touched by this story are bound to view those little chases the same way again.
I have a 4-year-old. He swings bats. I can’t imagine the unbearable challenge facing these parents now, the challenge of protecting one precious life while mourning another.
This is not a sports story, of course. It is a life story. But it happened on a field of play, with an implement of play, and so maybe sports have something to say about this.
If sports do nothing else, they sort us into teams. And yes, as parts of these teams we compete with others. But the more important function of teams is to draw us closer to teammates, to teach us to depend on others, to lift each other up.
One reason I feel compelled to write, to talk about how often these close calls happen and how so many of us have stood in that frightening second, hoping, is to remind this mother and this father that they remain valued members of this team named, “Parents,” and that their grief is shared, at least in a small way, by more of us than they know. Most of us can’t begin to comprehend what they must feel. But we can stand with them, and lift them up.
The same for those folks on the teams called, “Coaches,” and “Friends.”
Also, this tragedy happened on the property of a church. And though I won’t belabor it, I count myself among those who have a hope beyond the end. Wishful thinking, some might say, though the great author and minister Frederick Buechner notes that a child growing up hoping to drive a car is wishful thinking, and that “sometimes dreams are the wings the truth comes in on. And sometimes the truth is what sets us wishing for it.”
It is painful to think that a 2-year-old boy would lose his life doing something 2-year-old boys do the most — running to an older sister (or brother). I’ll only say that there are many who hang to the hope that one day this little girl, and the rest of this family, will run back to him.
But in this moment, there’s no point in trying to make sense of this heartbreaking thing. I don’t know that I’ll ever step out onto a T-ball field filled with children without thinking about it. And I do suspect that a great many parents have held children just a little tighter this week, because of this little boy.