Lessons from travel ball

PHOTO: Sarah Whitworth, Flickr CC-BY
Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

My parents hover near the periphery of memories of organized childhood activities. Oh, they were there. I just didn’t notice them much.

Looking out the bus window of my recollections I see my dad patrolling the school parking lot in his work clothes. He smokes a Winston cigarette while sometimes emitting just a hint of Eau de Michelob. Especially conspicuous at speech meets, he made a hobby of unnerving school principals.

Other days it was my mom with her Virginia Slims. She hunkers in the station wagon with the air pot full of Hills Brothers coffee that she brought from home. If the bus got back late she would chatter all the way home like a vinyl record at the wrong speed.

See, they were just my ride. How my experiences affected them didn’t occur to me until many years later when I found myself hauling children to various activities.

For instance, I’m writing this in a gas station parking lot while my son is practicing baseball. This is often the case. It just happens to be worth mentioning today.

I grew up in the country about 15 minutes away from my school. So I’m used to everything being a drive. But now we live 30 minutes from our three sons’ school, even further in the woods. That makes every day a small logistical puzzle involving mealtimes, gasoline, and a small dog who registers complaints with sass and urine.

Complicating matters, this year our son Doug qualified for a travel team in our local youth baseball program. This means games all over the long roads and rolling hills of the North Country.

One thing I never counted on was having a kid who not only enjoyed sports but showed glimmers of athletic ability. I’m enough of a bumbling oaf that this may qualify as some sort of species-altering super mutation. This experience has shown me, however, that organized athletics is a multi-generational affair.

My wife and I are just not pro level sports parents yet. Our first games only proved the point.

First of all, our lawn chairs didn’t rock or feature pop-up canopies. We lugged our stuff by hand while others glided along pulling collapsible wagons. Our first weekend on the road we ran out of water and forgot our sunscreen. Thus, we endured the rest of the week resembling the lobster special at an old-time supper club.

Conversely, other families have clearly been doing this since Ty Cobb was playing 12U ball. At one point I was watching a little league game while behind me the father and grandfather of one of the players compared stories of their little league stats. If great-grandpa is still alive he was probably reliving his youthful at bats in a long term care facility.

About the only things that unite the generations of my family in this way are cheese and whiskey, products that generate an entirely different set of life experiences, but mostly farts.

Between games other kids ran to their parents who produced a buffet of healthy snacks and flavored beverages. All I had was a tin of Altoids and a jug of water: the diet of a competitive eater the day after the hot dog contest.

Oh, we figured it out. It’s not rocket science. It’s not even the complex set of signs that would indicate whether a child should bunt, steal second, or build a primitive telephone from chewing gum and twist-ties.

It is, after all, just baseball. If being bad at baseball was a crime I would be in jail. If being an inept baseball parent is a crime, well, lock me up. Drag racing your tech school buddy after a t-ball game actually is a crime, but my dad got away with it. We survived.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and co-hosts the podcast “Power in the Wilderness” on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, July 26, 2020 edition of the Mesabi Tribune.




  1. Thanks, I needed this today. The cheese and whiskey paragraph even made me laugh out loud. Someone may have had to lived it to understand. Eau de Windsor is always a little classier scent for those home site band concerts 🙂

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