Month: May 2014

Son of a Pitch: Part Two

Owen’s bat did not move the next game. Or the next. Much to my chagrin, he continued his no-swinging streak. I guess you could say his bat was on strike–PUN INTENDED! I was incredulous. I could not believe he did not have the urge to move the bat once in the half-dozen or so times he was at-bat.

My presence was not helping. I began to hide every time he stepped up to the plate. I arrived at the field late so as not to get too stressed out–or to add to his stress. I killed him with kindness. “You can do it!”(Dammit!) “Good eye, Owen!” (Do you think it could talk to your arm?) “Wait for your pitch, buddy.” (At this rate, it will be here by the time you’re in college.)

I also took solace in the stories I heard from other parents. Neighbors and friends who told me of their boys who refused to swing the bat in their first year of kid-pitch, boys who are now in high school and play baseball still.

Finally, I did what any good parent would do in such a situation. I resorted to bribery.

“Hey, O, I’ll pay you a dollar every time you swing the bat.”

“Really?” he asked, eyes widening.

“Really,” I said. “And if you get a hit–five dollars.”

Owen beamed at this proposal, but his brother Hayden balked. “I don’t get money for hits, and I swing the bat all the time.” Yes, and you get twenty pitches from a machine every time you’re at the plate, I thought. But I said, “I’ll give you extra money for taking all of your allergy medicine without complaining.” Christ, I’m going to need a part-time job to pay my kids for doing what they’re expected to do—Shut-up. If it works, it’s worth every cent.

And money is indeed the good old-fashioned motivator.

Now, Owen stepped up to the plate with a new sense of purpose. He was still timid, but I knew when he looked out at the pitcher, he saw dollar signs.

His first time at bat, there was still no movement, but I could see his elbow twitching, wanting to swing. His second time up, he swung twice, but struck out. When he went back to the dugout, I held up two fingers and he smiled. Two bucks.

On his last turn at the plate, he looked a little more confident. And then it happened. The ball came sailing inside the plate and “CRACK”. It flew out toward second base, as Owen sprinted to first. Everyone was rooting for him. They knew. Fellow players, parents, and the coaches all knew he needed a hit. “Run, Owen! Run!” I cheered. The first baseman got the ball before Owen touched the base. “Shoot,” I uttered, disappointed. But then, he took his foot off the bag just as Owen’s landed on it. He was safe.

And yet, in his excitement and confusion he began to run immediately to second. The boys at first and second threw the ball back and forth, and he was caught in the middle. Finally, he ran towards second and was tagged out.

Like many sporting moments, there was a kaleidoscope of activity in a matter of seconds. As the ump called him out, I heard an audible cry from the crowd. In my excitement, I yelled out: “It doesn’t matter, Owen. That was a good hit. It doesn’t matter!” People around me laughed, and Owen seemed to agree. What mattered was he finally got a hit–and five more dollars.

As I reflected on this for the remainder of the weekend, I kept coming back to my words–words that were so spontaneous at the time–It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t. I now realize that, in the end, it doesn’t matter. So much of this does not matter, yet we place an incredible amount of emphasis on it. In the end, this will be a memory. I played baseball when I was a kid. I was afraid of the ball…And I don’t want to be naieve enough to think that Owen, and other kids, will just remember the fun they had–if they had fun. No. He may remember the fear. But I hope, above all, he remembers that when he did play baseball, or any activity for that matter, and he looked out into the stands or the audience, he knew his parents were there supporting him. That whether he scored or not, won or not, hit or not, his family was there, standing behind him. Supporting him.

That’s what matters. In the end, that’s one of the only things that will matter.

Owen's first Phillies game: April 2011, 6 years-old.

Owen’s first Phillies game: April 2011, 6 years-old.

 

 

 

To the Man in the Black Hat

To the man in the black hat

walking the white dog

who passed me while I was taking a break

from running in the park,

my back to him as I stretched under the

canopy of green trees

 

To the man in the black baseball hat

whose gray hair hugged his tan neck

while I watched him walk away on the path

enjoying my freedom in the cool breeze

on this late day in spring

 

To the man in the black baseball hat

with the yellow letters that cradled the opening

on the back of his cap. Seven letters that seemed to call out to me,

as if to say: “This is what today is for. This man fought a war–maybe

two, maybe five. Maybe he is still fighting a war

–within–

so you can stand here and stretch in the afternoon sun

with all of your limbs, and no understanding of what it means to

stand on a battlefield–to risk your life for God and country.”

 

To the man in the black hat with the golden-yellow letters that spelled

V-E-T-E-R-A-N

“Thank you.” I wanted to say those words as I watched you walk by,

and I read the word on your cap. But I felt foolish, listening to my pop music

while I sought out hills to climb for the sake of climbing, and you walked down the path, perhaps off another battlefield in your mind.

 

“Thank you.”

 

I did not have the courage to say it then. But I say it now, to honor you, all of you

who so bravely served, and fought, and perhaps died, or lived to tell your tale, or to simply wear your

cap as you stroll through the park on THIS day, the day we call Memorial Day.

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Son of a Pitch

May 5, 2014

Dare I say winter has finally left. I do. And spring’s seduction is all around us. This week I have been captivated by spring’s allure. I see it in the soft pink petals that litter the newly spread mulch, and the double-rainbow that appeared in the sky after a late day thunderstorm. I smell it in the smoky air after the lawn has been cut, or the sweet aroma of a budding cherry tree. And I also hear it. Yes, the sounds of spring are everywhere, especially on the little league baseball field: the thwap of the glove that has just caught a pop-fly, the crack of the bat that has just ripped one down the third baseline, and the thud of a ball that has just beamed the side of a nine-year old.

10323090_774715622548396_1736370033_nYes, if it’s spring, and you live in the suburbs, there is also a lot of baseball to be played. Ane where there is little league baseball, there is fear.

Trust me, I know fear. My fear of getting hit with the ball got me demoted to the T-ball team. And now, I get to relive my youth through my son. Poor Owen. He is petrified of getting hit with the ball, and I don’t blame him. It is so painful to watch. He’s gotten hit, as have all the kids, and all we can do is watch with pained expressions and cheer as the boys “shake it off”. Have you ever seen a young kid get hit with a baseball? It is tortuous. During the first game, I was not even watching the batter, but I heard the sound. It was like listening to a butcher thwack a side of beef. “This is what clubbing a seal must sound like,” I thought to myself, morbidly.

And kids are funny. Owen always wants to play the sport that’s not in season. During basketball season this winter, he was frustrated because he was one of the shorter kids and didn’t make a basket during a game. “I don’t really like basketball,” he said. “Really? But you have some good moves.” “Yeah, I want to play baseball.” Then, late in the season it all starts to click on the court. In the final game, he scores his first basket. He is elated.

That week: “Can we get a basketball net for the driveway?” he asks. “Sure, Owen.” Now he’s out there every day.

Flash forward to baseball season–you know, the season he wanted to play when we were in basketball season–and he is miserable. Oh, he likes his teammates, he enjoys chomping on a big wad of watermelon “Big Chew” in the dugout, he likes the snack bar and the uniform. He’s even okay in the field.  He just dreads every time he is at bat. And the league is more competitive now; the boys who pitch seem to be playing for college scouts in the stands. These kids are good. They pitch fast. And the ball hurts real bad when it lands in your chest. or on your side, or in your face…

Meanwhile, part of my frustration is that I suck at baseball. I can’t aim worth a damn. I could not throw a decent pitch if my life depended on it. It’s the only reason I decided not to go into politics–fear I’d be called upon to throw out the ceremonial first pitch:) So, I am useless to him. We can have a catch–ISH. But no one in our house can help him with his batting. As I look in to ways to assist his game (enlist the help of friends, take him to a batting cage), Owen is falling deeper into a resentment of the game. The other night was pretty bad. Oh, he got walked twice, and crossed home plate for two runs, but he did not swing the bat once in the four times he was up to the plate. NOT. ONCE.

I’ve tried to say all the right things: doyou’rebestwe’reproudofyounomatterwhateverybodystrikesoutiknowyoucandoit, but the other night, I was not the dad I wanted to be. By worrying that Owen was going to become THAT kid on the team, where kids would wonder What the heck’s wrong with this kid that he NEVER swings the stinkin bat, I felt like I was becoming THAT dad in the stands, wondering What the heck’s wrong with this kid that he NEVER swings the stinkin bat? I went over to encourage him every time he batted–but it felt like I was hovering, putting pressure on him. When he’d get to base, he’d look at me with a worried face. As he crossed home plate, he came over to the fence and said “But you wanted to me to swing and I didn’t.” “It’s okay, buddy,” I said, trying to sound casual.

Finally, in the last inning, I watched the other team’s pitcher intently. He threw a strike every first pitch. I walked up to the dugout. “Hey, O, his first pitch has been a strike every time. No matter what, swing on the first pitch, okay?” “Okay.” “Promise?” “Promise.”

Nothing. He did not swing on the first pitch. Or the second. Or the final one when the ump called him “out.” Despite my best efforts, I could tell I was mad.

As we walked to the car, I felt bad for him, but I wanted to wake him up about this. “How many swings did you take tonight?” “I don’t know.” “None.” “Really?” “Yes.” “You know what, Owen, I don’t care if you strike out, but I DO care if you don’t swing the bat. I don’t expect you to be the best player on the team, but I do think you have it in you to have the best attitude on the team.” I felt good. These were good messages to send. But I never know when to shut up. I tend to rant.

“You know what, though? If you tell me you don’t want to play baseball next year, I’m fine with that. If I see you give it your all, I will support your decision, whatever it is. But if you play the way you played tonight, not chasing after balls, being slow on the field, and not swinging the bat ONCE, then I will make you play next year.” His eyes grew wide with fear.

Shit. This is not who I want to be. I wish he could quit the team, but I can’t set that standard–if you sign up for something, you have to see it through.

We drive home in silence. As he gets ready to go upstairs to bed, he tells my wife that he is sad because I said he was bad at baseball. “What? I never said you were bad…” and then I repeated all the things I said in the parking lot (except the part about making him play if he doesn’t try his best) Sorry, Pam)).

I hear him crying as he takes a shower. I wish I could make it better. I wish I could swing the damn bat for him. I wish I could show him a video of his future and all the things he will be great at, but for now, I will listen to his cries and try my best to emphasize the things I do want him to get out of this season:

  1. We don’t quit.
  2. I believe in you.
  3. Everything will not come naturally to you.
  4. You have many talents.
  5. There are many ways to be an asset to your team.
  6. I love you no matter what.

By the time I go to his room to say goodnight, he is sound asleep. I want him to be awake. To end the day with affection and remind him that I love him. I kiss him twice on the cheek. He does not stir. I rub his head, hoping to send my love to him in his sleep.

The next morning, I am extra chipper when I first see him. I don’t want this baseball thing to cloud every aspect of our lives. “Good morning!” I say. “Good morning,” he repeats softly. “I came in to say ‘goodnight’ but you were already asleep!” He smiles. “No I wasn’t. I was faking it.” Then he laughs. I laugh, too, hesitantly. Was this some sort of punishment, I wonder. A nine-year old’s way of saying screw you? No matter. I’m glad he was awake. I want him to remember that part of the day. The part where I love you even when you are asleep. The part that says, no matter what transpires during the day, my love for you will never stop. Whether you’re the star player or figuring out a way to just get a hit, I love you.

If I had to guess, I’d say this is Owen’s last year playing baseball. And to be honest, I’m fine with that. Besides, he really likes soccer anyway. Yeah, soccer.

Be sure to read my post on Wednesday to see if Owen ever did swing that bat!

 

Happy Mother’s Day!

Hope everyone found a bit of happiness today with mom, or was comforted by a fond memory of her.

Agnes says it best: “We love you mothers everywhere!”