By Katie Fallon
In a move that may surprise most Little League parents, one local mother has not only admitted to becoming an overzealous part of her son’s baseball career, but has documented her follies in a book.
Martha Payne, a Buckhead mother of four, admits that when her oldest son Sam, a Westminster graduate and now freshman at Davidson College, was at the height of his Little League involvement, she got a little crazy with her involvement and dedication as the ultimate “Team Mom”
Because of her own love of baseball and lifelong status as a Braves fan, Payne said there is a reason she became the person she did when her firstborn began the time-honored tradition so many young children participate in across the world.
“I think the reason it happened with Sam is the first time, the feelings are more intense,” Payne said. “Because of the love of the sport I already had, I think I dove in too deep and got too passionate. I spent a lot of time on his baseball career.”
After realizing her reaction to coaches, players, umpires and her own son’s skills left a bit to be desired, Payne said she looked for a book on similar parents’ struggles, but written from a mother’s perspective. When she could not find such a book, Payne decided to write one herself. The process, she said, was both therapeutic and a means of altering her meddlesome ways for her two other sons that have since come up through the Little League system.
“I think I’m more balanced about it with my other boys,” Payne said of sons Matt, who now plays football as a sophomore at Westminster and Ian, who still plays Buckhead Baseball.
Her brood also includes daughter Emma, who likewise attends Westminster, but who prefers a gymnastics leotard over a baseball mitt and bat.
Although she wrote Put Him In Coach! for mothers, Payne said she has received quite a positive response from Little League dads as well.
“Since it came out, I’ve had many more fathers call and comment,” Payne said. “Moms as well and parents from other sports.”
Overall, however, Payne said her book is about a mother’s journey through the ups and downs of a child’s career in Little League baseball. It also chronicles how the obsessive behavior that can surround youth sports comes from every level of moms, dads and coaches.
“I think it’s a mother’s learning experience, but also, it’s about being able to stand back and laugh at myself,” she said.
Payne said although her son Sam finished his Little League career in 2001, his memories were revived when her book was published in June. She said he has not always enjoyed the spotlight that the book has drawn, but he is ultimately proud of his mother’s accomplishment.
“He’s a kid who over the years, was embarrassed by me,” Payne said. “He’s proud of me. It was therapeutic for both of us.”
As the mother of three sons who played baseball in Buckhead, Payne has also become an unlikely advocate for a cause she saw in some of her sons’ opponents. She has committed half of her earnings from the sale of Put Him In, Coach! to the nonprofit organization Reviving Baseball in the Inner Cities, or RBIs.
The aim of RBIs and its local arm, the Junior Braves, is to create non-fee youth baseball opportunities in inner city and minority communities that would not otherwise have an opportunity to have their children play organized baseball.
“For a long time, I watched the other teams we played and one of two teams would be from inner-city Atlanta,” Payne said. “It was obvious the boys were talented, but they clearly had never had a hitting or pitching lesson. Over the years, I thought it wasn’t right and wasn’t fair.”
Payne said that before her book was published, she already knew that she wanted to donate half of her royalties from the sale of the book to a nonprofit organization. She then found the Junior Braves and RBIs, which is run through the Boys and Girls Clubs of Atlanta, and knew she had found what she was looking for.
“I wanted to try and return baseball to some of those kids,” Payne said. “I think it’s a great program.”
But Payne’s literary career is not over. She has recently tried her hand at writing fiction and expects to publish Chin Music next year. As Payne describes it, the novel is a modernized, Southern family saga of a woman’s loyalty to her family versus her need to move on beyond the confines of that family.
For now, Put Him In, Coach! can be found at www.barnesandnoble.com, www.amazzon.com, www.iuniverse.com and www.booksamillion.com. It is also now available at the Barnes and Noble at 2900 Peachtree Road.
For more information, visit www.marthapayne.com.