I live just up the street from the local park and ball fields, and every day as I sit here at my desk I catch a glimpse of my past in the form of young ball playing aspirants walking home with their dads and sometimes mom’s.
I don’t mean the dads are sometimes moms…you know what I mean….but again….
Gotta be careful.
Anyway, I’ll focus more on the dads and sons here, since that was my experience when I was an 8 year old baseball novice.
Nowadays they start even earlier; like 3, 4, 5 or 6. You can’t start playing baseball too early, you know. Can’t start instilling the value of self-esteem based on how well coordinated you are and your ability to concentrate on anything other than a Sponge Bob cartoon, too soon.
I mean who needs a well-adjusted kid?
What struck me about today's vignette was the sight of a particular young man, dressed in full uniform, maybe 9 or 10, walking about 6 or 7 steps ahead of his dad, who was barking instructions at him in regard to that day’s on field performance.
The kid, head down, trudged forward carrying the tell-tale weight of failure on his back.
Was it a team failure or a personal one, I wondered. Judging from the dad’s remarks it seemed kind of personal.
“I told you about keeping your front shoulder in and your back elbow up…”
“You’re still guessing instead of reacting….”
And from what I could see the kid wasn’t reacting, at all, at least to his dad. In fact it occurred to me that his dad’s voice was the last thing he wanted to hear. Because if I were this little boy of 9 or 10, what I wanted to hear was, “Good game…let’s go get some ice cream.”
But I guess things are different now.
When I was 8 we pretty much just showed up at the field in a pair of dirty jeans and whatever shirt we woke up in, along with either some hand me down dried out piece of leather, or a glove so new it still mooed and was impossible to bend let alone close.
There we stood, gathered in a circle to hear some inspirational words from the coach, all the while wondering why his nose was so red. Then, appropriately inspired, we ran out to the field, screaming like banshees, who had a pretty good team themselves, and stood wherever we could find an open spot to stand.
One lucky kid was selected to pick up a bat and hit, which is what we all really wanted to do, while the coach soft tossed baseballs at him.
Mostly, the kid would swing valiantly at the pitch, usually miss and sometimes screw himself into the ground.
Meanwhile, the rest of us stood out at our self-appointed positions, made faces at our friends, scanned the sky for airplanes and picked our own red noses.
Occasionally the bat would find its way to the ball and, if you were paying attention, you would find yourself running towards said ball…along with about 20 other kids…some of whom weren’t even on the field at the time it was hit.
And in this way we learned to play the American pastime.
Eventually, as time went on and actual games were played, the herd thinned out as those who lacked the attention span, the desire or simply the love of the game went off to pursue other interests.
Our 6 inning contests rarely made it to completion as darkness would ultimately take hold, sometimes as early as the third inning after a good 2 hours of trying to hit the ball and get somebody out.
But there were plenty of walks and strikeouts and even a few caught balls…every now and then.
The best part was, after the game, completed or not, won or lost, there was always a cooler of soda and sometimes a trip for ice cream.
Eventually, our bodies caught up with our aspirations and our dreams advanced with our eye/hand coordination.
We played catch with our dads, just cuz we liked it, and pitched in the World Series of our imagination as we bounced a super ball off the front steps. We watched games on TV, played in backyards, playgrounds and even in the street.
Some had a natural instinct and ability for the game and naturally found their positions, while others, myself included, had no natural position, let alone ability, other than an instinct to get dirty from head to toe.
The truth is, if you had to name my best position I guess you would have to call me a designated walker/base runner who was an expert at pop up sliding, having practiced the art for hours on my living room carpet.
As the competition increased and we advanced through the leagues, the best of the best stood out above the rest and even more of us dropped out.
But there was no sense of failure or loss in any of that. We went as far as our abilities took us and most importantly, we had fun along the way.
We all worked at getting better and we all wanted to win.
Sure, we suffered our losses and licked our wounds…but we turned the page uickly…and soon found the world was full of other games, most of which came with as many defeats as there were wins.
And once we understood that...we never lost again.
And besides...there’s always ice cream.
Lots and lots of ice cream.