Monday, September 15, 2008
Around 6 p.m. Sunday evening I decided to take Chaz to the ball field to practice hitting and pitching. He moves up to "kid pitch" next season, and he'll be playing with 9-10 year olds.
So, as we're walking to the field, I can see and hear four kids playing on the field next to ours. It's certainly not unusual to see kids playing on vacant fields. In fact, it's a great thing to be able to do that as a kid!
But, what I heard out of these kids' mouths aggravated me. They probably ranged in age from 10-13, and all they did was argue with each other and put one another down. Further, the comments were not along the lines of "you stink." These were far worse cut-downs with language that would make a sailor blush.
I attempted to tune it out for a while, but it become too much. I finally walked over to the field and asked where their parents were. I immediately felt eight eyes shoot daggers at me, as the collective response was, "Why?"
I asked these kids if their parents would appreciate the language they were using, and if they'd like the way they spoke to one another. I asked them to stop using foul language, but you would have thought I asked them something completely insulting by their replies. They said things like, "I can do and say whatever I want to" and "I know someone who owns this park, and he lets me do what I want (it's a city park, so that was definitely not true)."
This went on for about a minute, when a gentleman playing tennis behind the field hopped the fence and ran over. He said, "I have little kids over here, and I am tired of hearing the cussing. It's gotta stop."
I then picked up a glove and bat and told the kids that they were either going to leave the park, or I was going to take the equipment over to my field until they decided to clean up their act.
The oldest kid said, "You can't make us leave." The other man (the one who hopped the fence) said, we may not be able to make you leave, but we'll take this equipment and toss it in the dumpster, and you won't be able to play."
At this point, I was just beside myself. Not really angry. More disappointed than anything else. I mean, when I was 10 or 12 years old, I would have absolutely loved to be able to play baseball on a REAL field any time I wanted to. And, I certainly would have respected any adults who talked to me. But, these kids didn't have respect for anything - for each other, for adults, or for the very park in which they were playing.
I came to find out that these kids are living a pretty rough life. Their family situations are not good at all. Their homes are infested with bugs. Sometimes they don't get enough to eat. One or two have fathers rumored to be in prison.
I told the kids before I left that I had no problem with them playing ball on the fields. In fact, I told them I was glad that they were out there having fun. But, I explained that they needed to show respect to others and watch their language.
I wonder if any of them will look back one day at their interaction with me and the tennis-playing fence-hopping guy. I hope they do, and I pray that for them it may have been the wake-up call they needed to turn their lives around.
Because at the end of the day, we're all responsible for our own actions and words, despite the circumstances in which we find ourselves.
I hope those kids make something of their lives, and can remove the reputations they have already established for themselves as troublemakers.
As one person already told me today, "You can only earn so many chances for yourself; but, at some point, your chances run out when people are trying to do things for you."
I wish today's youth could somehow see how things like disrespect shape their character, and can cause irreparable harm to their futures.
Only time will tell.