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Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Strike 3

I grew up playing sports.

Suppose this had a lot to do with a lack of social media in 70s. There was really nothing else to do. No phone to stare at, no twitter wars to engage or photos to post that would inevitably haunt my professional career.

We hauled wooden bats down to Katie's Corner--a vacant lot where we tossed slow-pitch baseballs at a dirt-patch home plate. The gravel alley was a home run and the neighbor's backyard was out of play. We did that all day, all summer. We kept stats, tracked home runs and batting average. We took breaks to trade baseball cards. I still have a shoe box of them that I swear is worth some money but probably not. Some days our games ended with a score of 110 to 95.

This was baseball.

It's easy to bask in nostalgia, to believe those were better days. They weren't no better than now, I suppose. We didn't start organized baseball until we were 9 years old. Summer leagues ended when we were 17. I lived and breathed the game, oiled the glove at night, roughed up baseballs in the morning. I remember my first aluminum bat, the TING it made. It hit two homeruns that day.

Best day ever.

Organized sports is a good deal. I believe that. Kids learn discipline, practice and hopefully sportsmanship. I think they're more likely to avoid trouble at an age when trouble is more likely to happen. Not a guarantee, I knew plenty of athletes that found it just the same.

We attempted to indoctrinate our kids. Like every van-toting family, it started with YMCA soccer. We stood on crabgrass sidelines and watched a gang of post-toddlers move a ball half their size around a mudhole while parents screamed non-stop. KICK IT. KICK IT. KICK IT. KICK THE BALL. KICK THE BALL. KICK THE BALL. KICK THE BALL.

That lasted one season.

Next, we signed our son up for baseball. This was in my wheelhouse, my bread and butter. I wanted him to have the same memories, throwing dogeared trading cards in a shoe box and pouring over box scores. What I didn't realize was that game had changed. People must've been starting their kids in the sport before they were walking. They had batting cages in their backyards, spent summers with coaches and sports camps. They perfected their swing and they were only 7 years old.

SEVEN.

This was machine pitch. That's where a batting machine serves as the pitcher. This works better than a seven year old booger-picker walking 20 batters in an inning. Most of the kids were like my son, bored out of their skull. Unless you're a sycophant, baseball is mind-numbing. Especially for a 7 year old. The first time one of these trained-since-birth, future MLB baseball All-Stars came to bat, I knew it.

The kid took the first pitch, watched it all the way into the catcher's mitt. This is unusual. Most of these kids swing like they're holding a fly swatter. This kid was timing it. It was the second pitch he drilled. Turned at hips. Followed through. Smashed a line drive into outer space. He rounded the bases and took a nap before one of the clover-picking outfielders got back.

Someone was going to get seriously hurt.

The kids in the third base area, technically they were third basemen sort of, stood with their arms at their sides. One of these days, they were going to catch a line drive from a mini-Albert Pujols with their lips. I never witnessed it, but I guarantee it was destined to happen.

My son finished the season because we made him. If he didn't want to play after that, that was okay. He didn't. And, to be honest, it was sort of awesome. In order to compete, we would have had to mortgage the house to travel the country.

My daughter ended up dancing. Then she played tennis. Then the violin. Saxophone. Lacrosse. She gets good grades, so we don't complain. My son found his passion skateboarding. No scholarship for that and probably a future of hip and knee replacements and lots of practice interacting with the police. Not how we planned it but nothing in parenting goes that way. As parents, we tend to take too much credit for their successes and too much blame for their failures.

And love them no matter what.


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