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Stepping up to the plate for moms

  • Published
  • By Col. Robert Rocco
  • 6th Medical Group commander
There I was, 36 years ago in the bottom of the 6th inning. My little league team was down five to four. We had runners on second and third and there were two outs, "Now batting, the center-fielder, number 11, Rob Rocco."

I still get chills thinking about how stressful those moments can be for a young boy. Let me tell you, I was stressed! Thousands of fans watching (okay, there was maybe a hundred watching, but thousands sounds way more cool than dozens) and I step up to the plate against Nick Alfieri. Nick was one of our town's flamethrowers. He'd hit me earlier in the game and I was nervous about this at bat. I wondered if he would hit me again or worse, would he strike me out. I was also extra nervous because my whole family was there watching--my older brother, big sister, father and mom.

Back then, the concept of sportsmanship hadn't quite reached the ball fields of New Jersey, and in my mind I can still hear the chants of "No batter, no batter", "strike him out" and the dreaded, "outfield play shallow" from the opposing coach. I weighed all of about 85 pounds and on my best day, was proud when I hit single up the middle. Batting with the game on the line was not my cup of tea, and I was nervous.

As I stepped up to the plate, I caught a glimpse of my mom. She was smiling that smile that mom's do best. The smile that says, "I love you son, and I know you won't fail." The first pitch sailed under my chin and I wondered if my mom was actually smiling that smile that said, "Don't worry son. We have health insurance." I swung feebly at the next pitch but managed to hit a foul ball up the first base line. I looked over again, and my mom was waving her pom-pom. She was still smiling--a good sign! The next pitch was right down the middle, and as luck would have it I smacked a line shot between the center fielder and right fielder (Outfield play shallow? Take that coach!). The ball rolled to the fence, and by the time I made it to second base both of my teammates had scored.

We won the game, and I got the game winning hit (a walk-off in today's culture). As everyone cheered for me my mom committed the cardinal sin of mother-son relationships. She hugged and kissed me in front of my teammates. I was never so embarrassed in my life. I didn't speak to her for days. Never before or since do I remember being so angry with her.
When we got home she tried everything to apologize. Not even an offer to dine on pizza and ice cream would get me to forgive her. Not until my father "intervened" a few days later did I reluctantly agree to accept my mom's apology.

As the years passed, I often thought about that moment. My mom had given me the confidence to step up to the plate, and when I succeeded I shunned her love and praise. It took me a long time to get over that--I honestly can't figure out why that was such a big deal then, but am so grateful now that after every game my own children always give their mom and me big hugs and thank us for watching them play (as if there were anywhere else we'd rather be).

Over the years, my sister, brother and I often joked about the silly things we did growing up; laughing now at what we did, wondering why they seemed so serious then. This weekend, America will celebrate Mother's Day. Families across the country will honor moms on their special day. I hope they will take a few moments to think about how important moms are and how special the relationship is between children and mothers. No slight on dads, but moms rock.

This Mother's Day, I'll spend Sunday remembering my mom and the encouragement she gave me growing up--in little league, when I was commissioned in 1987 and throughout my career. I'll think back to all the games she watched me play in and all the cheers she gave me, whether I made the big play or struck out to end the game. I never got to truly apologize to my mom for the mistake I made as a selfish 11-year-old because Father Time caught up to her in 2007. Mom, if you read this, thanks for the hug that day. Looking back, the hit was nice, but the memory of that hug was the most special part of the day.

Happy Mother's Day Mom and Happy Mother's Day to all moms who are always there to encourage, nurture, console and best of all, love.