I grew up in a sports loving household, with a sports playing father and a sports playing brother, in a city with consistently winning professional football, baseball, basketball and hockey teams. There was a hugely successful college sports program nearby. The TV in my house was always tuned to a sports event and most of us were glued to it. So it was a bit of a shock when I told my brother that Milo had picked baseball as his sport and my brother groaned with projected misery.
Oh, I am sooooo sorry.
Have you ever seen kids play baseball?
No, not really, why?
Because it is bor-ing. Unbelievably Bor-ing. Get some fold-up chairs, a flask and headphones. You are in for a long, hot, dull spring.
He’s right. Little league is torture. There’s a field of over heated 10 year old boys, attempting to play the world’s trickiest game, that is, when there’s any actual play going on, because mostly it’s wild pitching, scrambled catching and walking, walking, walking. Little Leaguers are distracted, sluggish, uncoordinated and generally disheartened. Make it kid pitch and you have the world’s gloomiest gang of boys with bats. Add to this Milo — impulse control challenged Milo, sensory integration disorder, if something hits me suddenly I lose my shit Milo — and who knows what will happen. (Most likely nothing, except for the sudden bursts of shrill screaming, wild accusations about the ump and bat, mitt and helmet throwing in disgust.) But it was his choice.
We made him pick a sport. He quit Tai Kwon Do because it demanded to much compliance. Soccer and baseball involved too much running, we won’t let him play football and swimming is too loud and splashy. So, put me in coach. Baseball. He had to wear socks and cleats. And a hat. And not duck when the ball came at him. And face forward in the outfield. And not break dance or pick and eat mysterious, pesticide-laden grass.
And he did. He did all of it. At the first practice he struck out and ran into the woods crying. But eventually he connected with the ball and fought back the tears. He didn’t swing in a game until late in the season having calculated that he had a way better chance of walking onto base than hitting onto base. But eventually, he swung. He fielded ground balls easily, but ran AWAY from the fly balls not toward them. Until he managed to stay in place and hold his mitt up, and by chance, he caught a few.
His team had a losing season. He would rage against the injustice and the other teams, but he never missed a practice. We took him to a free clinic sponsored by our local minor league ball team. He stayed the whole three hours, moved form station o station, made it to the final round in the ground ball elimination challenge and even made a friend.
Of course I had to be there every minute of every practice and game. I had to put on his socks and his cleats. I had to double knot them and take them off. I had to retrieve his mitt from under his bed or the from the crack between the back car seats. I had to keep track of his uniform and remember his water bottle. But to see him play a team sport, to hear him explode with pride and joy when he batted in a run, to watch him hustle down to first base even as he knew he was getting thrown out, to watch him pitch, and catch badly but with conviction and gusto . . .it was worth every ridiculously long, boring, bug-bitten practice. I can’t wait until next spring.