Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Tools Of Ignorance

[Editor's Note: Other than houses, I doubt I've written about any topic as much as about baseball, and now I'm just known on the internet as the guy that's "Giving Up On Baseball." It's accurate, but I'm not like the kid that solemnly vows to give up broccoli for Lent; there's a lot to give up on there. I wrote this two years ago:]

{Author's Note: There is no editor}

The Large Child, who is nine, had a baseball game last evening. Unwilling to settle for embarrassing ourselves amongst ourselves, out little hamlet now invites the surrounding burgs to visit our fair town and bring veritable giants, children whose birth certificates have obviously been smudged and whose parents are forgetful about dates, to trounce our tykes.

It is a lovely scene. The town field is behind the Victorian town hall, bounded by fieldstone walls, with massive and ancient oaks reaching their gnarled limbs out to catch the errant foul ball. Come to think of it, some of the other team's kids seemed pretty massive, and reached out their gnarled limbs to snare errant foul balls...

Perhaps I exaggerate. When I was young, I was considered a beanpole. I played center at pick-up basketball. I loomed liked Ichabod Crane over many of my classmates, and had a couple inches on my old man by the time I was fifteen. The occasional magazine article would explain that ours was that generation that, because of the food pyramid, chewable vitamins, fluoride, vitamin D milk, and polio shots would reach the limits, finally, of the potential of human development.

Well, the nine year old kid pitching for the opposing team could look me straight in the eye.

But this story isn't about me. My boy. By god I was proud of him yesterday.

Catchers are in short supply when you're nine. Catching is hard. The roster consists of 10 children who wish to play first base, and 3 who wouldn't mind sitting on the bench to chat with their peers, thank you for asking anyway. The coach eyed my boy, and pronounced him suitable for catching, inasmuch as he did not make himself scarce when it was offered. This is because my boy is not wise in the ways of the sporting world. He donned the armor and went into battle.

Now understand, The Boy is not athletic. He spells better than you, and talks like a diplomat, and tells a humorous anecdote like a trained music hall actor, but he'll never round the bases at Fenway unless he eventually hears the siren song of the landscaping arts and ends up on the grounds crew.

No matter. He gave it a go. And he was... well ...good at it. Not real good or anything, but good enough to make the coaches realize: we can rope this kid into this. He was good enough to allow the umpire, who was endless fun, to rib him when he didn't catch a pitch he had called a strike. You're making me look bad, he intoned in his best stage whisper, and the boy apologized and we all laughed.

And then it came. The game was... well, closer than the usual trouncing. The bases were full. There were two outs. And My Boy strides to the plate.

In many ways, baseball, even when played properly, is a dreary sport. Long periods of time pass where not much happens. The spectator's, and even the player's mind, tend to wander. The umpire also occasionally has to wander- out to the second baseman to gently remind him not to face out into centerfield, hatless, while dancing around to inaudible music. But baseball's drudgery leads up to moments. Something might happen.

Anyway, as I was saying, your attention can wander at a baseba... Hey! how did he get two strikes on him so fast?!

Now the moment might be different. The touching scene, as the doting father consoles his son as he walks dejected back to the bench...

One in the dirt. One over his head. One more in the dirt. The count is full. The moment returns.

Now because The Boy is unwise in the ways of sports, he is uncommonly unaffected in his appearance and demeanor while playing. The other kids ape the professionals to a "T," dressed to the nines in vaguely metrosexual sports gear and afflicted with every bad habit and unsportsmanlike behavior that plagues the major leagues of every sport. Until you have seen a nine year old boy, wearing All Nike Everything, including two batting gloves, arguing balls and strikes with the umpire, trying unsuccessfully to spit between pitches, and throwing his bat in disgust after striking out, you wouldn't believe it could be true. Well it is. Big time.

The Boy wears his batting helmet tilted a little too far forward, where it can actually shield his eyes from the sun, and protect his face, but doesn't have the requisite insouciance neccessary for devotees of The Perfessionals. He wears plain grey sweatpants, not Official, Aerodynamic, Logo emblazoned, Microfiber baseball pants. He wears cheap sneakers. And he randomly chooses his bat, walks to the plate, taps the bat once in the center of the plate to measure his location in the batter's box, and assumes a stance that would make Ted Williams smile. And he holds that stance, come what may, without any affectation whatsoever. And he concentrates, and he tries hard to hit it.

Oh yes- full count, bases loaded, "Goliath" rears and offers to my "David," and the improbable happens.

The hit is the first from our team to make it on the fly to the outfield grass. The Boy motors to first, straight as a ruler, and stops there while two of his compatriots score. His teammates hoot from the bench.

After the game, (We lost. Again.) and the handshakes, and the gathering of scattered belongings, The Boy walks up to his coach and says:

Thank you coach for allowing me to be the catcher for the whole game.

And I considered on the short ride home the difference between pride and happiness. When The Boy got that hit, I think I was expected to be proud of him. But I wasn't. I was happy for him, and knew he must have glowed with satisfaction, standing on first with the little cheers raining down on him. But even if he had struck out, but still behaved as he did, and expressed his simple heartfelt gratitude as he did, how could I not be proud of him?

In the car, on the way home, he asked:

Dad, what's a ribby?


Glynn Young said...

Beautiful post. And a good argument for recycling.

Wolf Flywheel said...

My oldest is quite a bit younger than yours and is not quite to baseball yet. He played soccer this past season. It was something to watch the other parents in their insane rants about the "game". No one seemed to be just enjoying watching their little tykes running around tripping each other in over-sized uniforms. That's what I do. This was a great post and I look forward to having similar experiences in the coming years.

Internet Ronin said...

An outstanding piece, Sip. You painted that scene so well that I not only visualized the field, the wannabes acting up and the fly ball, but heard the voices and the shouts.

SippicanCottage said...

Thanks everybody. Satisfaction guaranteed or double your pixels back.