Nothing is quite as American as that age-old tradition of playing baseball. So with that spirit in mind we fastened the velcro on my son’s shoes and dusted off his Ninja Turtle baseball mitt and headed out to Sluggers in Brewer for our first Saturday of tee-ball.
That’s right. The Saturdays where we lounge in our pajamas and eat pancakes are over now. There is tee-ball to get to.
Upon entering the facility we are immediately struck by the amazing cross-section of humanity that is present at this, and all weekend children’s sporting events. There was the family not quite awake yet clutching their Dunkin Donuts coffee, the toddlers streaming cartoons on their daddy’s phone, the family dressed like they are at Fenway Park on the 4th of July, the mom who is talking on her cell phone loud enough for all to hear, the Trump-supporting folks with the 2nd amendment bumper sticker on their truck and the matching tree-camo jackets, and the dads already explaining complex baseball strategy to their 4-year old.
But this isn’t about the parents. It’s about the kids.
Any reservations my son had about stepping on that field were quickly washed away when he realized that in this place, he was allowed to throw balls, hit things with bats and run around as fast as he could. Yes, that’s right. The pure rapture he experienced now as he could do all the things he’d been reprimanded for these past winter months inside was electric. The joy was palpable.
Practice started and it was time to warm up. Which of course means motoring around the baseball diamond as fast as your tiny legs could go. The smile on my son’s face as he rounded third for home was ear to ear. I could tell he was really going to like this game.
Next it was time to partner up and play catch. Parter? What’s a partner? This concept eluded my child as he’s never needed a partner for anything. Some of the kids seemed to grasp this concept while a few others wandered around like shy teens at their first middle-school dance until they were individually positioned by the coaches. What followed was an exercise in how to throw a baseball as hard as you can, as high as possible. This would have probably been the most appropriate time to wear a helmet.
Tristan stepped up to the tee. He explained to the coach that he was a lefty, which quickly made the outfield switch to the overshift configuration (or stand around in the field like lost kittens in the rain, I’m not sure).
With all the force my 4-year old could muster he gripped the bat and swung. His connection with the ball was like an asteroid colliding with earth. The ball sailed, hundreds of inches, at a speed so fast it clearly paralyzed the outfield, as none of them seemed to move.
“Run! Run Tristan. Well, drop the bat and run….to first base, yes that one over there…that’s right, it’s ok you can run…go ahead……….great job buddy.”
But all good things must come to an end and the highest highs are often accompanied by the lowest lows. You see, after that it was time to be part of the outfield team.
Now the interesting thing about tee-ball is there is only one person batting at a time. That means that only one ball gets into a field where many children are standing. So to my son’s shock and horror, when the ball was hit into the field, he was often not the child who got to the ball first.
I imagine what went through his head in those moments was something like this:
“This can’t be right, when I play with daddy in the backyard the ball always goes to me. Why are all these other kids out here, getting between me and my destiny? This is unfair? I don’t like this. I’m sad, and I’m going to let everyone know.”
I could see the frown from 100 feet away, and as I saw the slow walk towards me I knew what was coming. The waterworks followed by a direct and commanding point to the door. “I WANT TO GO!” exclaimed my boy as tears streamed down his red cheeks.
We met at the chain link fence to have a quick coaching session (well not me, his mother did because I do not posses the negotiation skills necessary to talk my son of the ledge).
Negotiations went well as my son trudged back to the outfield but I could tell that the rest of this was not going to be easy. His dreams were shattered and his spirit now devastated. With any hope class was almost over and we could escape without further damage to his self-esteem.
I looked at my phone; 9:25. “Shit!, there is still 35 minutes!” There was no chance we were getting out of this place without another problem.
It didn’t take long for that other problem to present itself. You see, the next time my son was up to hit, he didn’t count on the opposition having a gold-glove first baseman.
The ground ball my son sent screaming down the first-base line had to be going at least 3 miles an hour. I have no idea how the kid at first was able to scoop that missile up of the ground (clearly divine intervention) and tag my son out but it happened.
I could see the internal struggle my son was now having:
“Out? What is out? What the hell does that mean? Go back to the bench? Piss off! Do you know who I am? This game is stupid. You are stupid. The entire world is stupid! I quit!”
This time negotiations were less successful and my son spent the rest of practice lifelessly standing in the field, gazing at the freedom that lie just beyond the exit doors.
My son wasn’t the only one. Many of the kids expressed the same range of emotions publicly while we as parents uncomfortable chuckled to each other. It seems this too is all part of the process.
On our way to the car we talked a lot about what it means to be part of a team, and that sometimes being out at first happens. In fact, 90% of this game is people getting called out at first base (which come to think of it makes this game kind of suck).
With any luck my son will forget the things he said before next Saturday. He will forget how he never wants to come back. He will forget that now hates baseball, me, and life in general. And for the next 6 days we get to look forward to doing this all again.