Last year I met Kevin Blum, a shy Toms River kid who barely came up to my elbow. I was writing a story on his brother KB's travel baseball team, and sometimes Kevin would tag along. On a cloudless August evening last summer, I went with his father, Karl, to watch Kevin play for an all-star team. The poor kid almost didn't play because he consumed too much ice cream prior to game time. He toughed it out and his team won.
A year later, almost to the day, Kevin hit four home runs and drove in ten RBIs for Toms River in a Little League World Series qualifier. This weekend, Kevin's team begins play in the Little League World Series on ESPN.
But it wasn't just chance. Toms River has a longstanding baseball tradition, sending four teams to the LLWS since 1995 and winning the title in 1998. More important, at home Karl Blum built a state-of-the-art practice facility for KB and Kevin that included a batting cage, a pitching mound, and stadium lights for nighttime workouts. The third story of the family's house has been converted from a media room into an indoor training facility. No matter how cold it got outside, Karl, a surgeon, could still toss Kevin and KB ground balls and have his son hit 50 pitches a day into a net. Every afternoon, he usually takes one of his kids to a nearby field for an hour of extra hitting and fielding.
For such a hyper-involved dad, Karl was remarkably quiet at his sons' games. He liked to stand in the back row and read stories on his Kindle while his kids played. This year is a little different: He's an assistant coach on Kevin's team. When KB's story was first published, there was the usual debate on whether Karl was taking away part of his kids' childhood by emphasizing baseball too much. Folks had a point, but the joy on Kevin's face last week when the team advanced to Williamsport suggests he is having the time of his life.
And that seems like a pretty fair definition of good parenting.