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I was playing the card game “Go Fish” with my four and a half-year-old grandson the other day when he said, “It’s OK not to win, isn’t it?”

That was a bit of a surprise, as in the last six months or so he’s found a way to turn every possible kind of play into a game that has a score and a winner. Plus, he’s been quite skilled at setting the rules, and resetting them, to favor himself.

So clearly I was surprised when he came up with the question about not having to win.

Was some part of his parental unit trying to teach him about winning and losing? Has a teacher or a coach said something to him?  Just what was going on here.?

And what should I tell him?

Growing up, winning at any and all games was crucial to me, whether it was a Monopoly game, playing ping pong, participating in a Little League baseball game, or attending a Red Sox game with my wonderful grandfather. I was so intense at all competition that a loss would frequently end in tears. I was so focused on winning that one year my parents almost didn’t let me return to the summer camp I attended in New Hampshire because I came home following two days of “Color War” not able to speak a complete sentence. (I stammered growing up and the intensity with which I approached two days of camp rivalry always resulted in the worsening of my stammer.)

Further Digression: I was so intense that according to my counselor, I got up one night after the opening day of “Color War” and in my sleep, walked all the way across the camp to the leader of my team and told him “Don’t worry. We’ll beat them tomorrow.” I then returned to my bunk and continued sleeping.

It has taken me years to learn to accept losing, and I still don’t do it too well.

Particularly when it involves my Red Sox.

In fact, my wife Ellen said the other day she knew the Sox must have been losing a few games because I was so grumpy.

She’s right, but don’t tell her.

While I am less competitive in most aspects of my life now than I was for most of my previous 70 years, that doesn’t seem to apply to watching, listening to, or attending a Sox game.

Former Nats’ GM Jim Bowden, according to my friend Dave E., once said, “Baseball is more fun when you score more runs than the other team.”

That’s definitely true for me when I watch a Nats’ game (an adopted team that I follow because I made the mistake (good decision?) of not settling in Boston. It’s more fun to watch when the Nats win. When they lose, it’s a bummer. But it’s not like a Sox loss.

A more accurate statement for me than Bowdens’ would be something like, “It’s excruciatingly painful when the Sox don’t score more runs than the other team.” I just came across this good article by a Ted D. Smith about how baseball will always break your heart. He writes, “The more you love the game, the worse the pain will be.”

But to return to my ‘playing games’ with my grandson and what I should teach him. I’m not sure I want to do to him what I did to my younger daughter (“I Blame You”).


I’m in the early stages of introducing him to Major League baseball, and he was not happy when the Nats lost the game we attended a few weeks ago.

Thanks to some good advice from MillersTime readers (see “A Dilemma Resolved”), I am doing my best at not trying to turn him into a Sox obsessive. It’s probably a good thing that I mostly take him to Nats’ games, and he doesn’t see what happens to me when the Sox lose.

But seriously, what is the best message to give?

Try to win, always?

If you’ve done your best, then the winning isn’t all?

It’s OK to lose?

You don’t have to win?

Of course we are talking here about more than just baseball.

Should I reinforce his “It’s OK not to win”?

I don’t believe that, of course.

But I also don’t want to saddle him with the pain I’ve felt over the years at losing.

Maybe I should just nod my head (in agreement) when he talks about “not having to win”.

Maybe I should learn from him.

I welcome your advice.