My nine-year-old son loves baseball.
He plays on a AAA team, which means nothing to me, but means something to my husband.
When he was nine–and for most of his youth into college and a little beyond–my husband, Billy, played baseball. He was a State Champion pitcher who got drafted into the majors at nineteen. But back then, there was no such thing as a pitch count for young players, and by the time he was twenty, his body was worn out. Even today, at the age of 47, he has problems with his rotary cuff. He did the thing he loved until it broke him.
Now Brady is playing. He’s not a pitcher–he’s a catcher. This is possibly by design (my husband’s) or maybe because Brady loves the position. It’s the most important position on the field, come to find out. He has to be aware of the positions of all the opposing players on the bags (that’s baseball jargon for “bases”–I didn’t know that either, once). If someone tries to steal a base, he has to see them and make snap decisions on where to throw the ball–and be on target. He can’t overthrow his intended baseman, because then the runner can move on to steal another base.
He also has to be aware when he can’t stop a pitch; when he goes running to get it, he also has to have eyes on the field to be sure to stop runners.
And then, there are other times when he just needs to be in the game and with the program. My favorite is when one of his team’s young pitchers are wobbly and walking batters; Brady looks so serious as he lifts his mask onto the top of his head and marches out the the mound to talk to them. He doesn’t take long, and he never fools around. Usually, he’ll pat the other player on the shoulder as he talks to them, and he looks right at them with such a grown-up expression on his face. Usually, this exchange works to calm the pitcher down and get them to throw strikes. Later, when I ask him what he said, he tells me things like, “I told him to take a deep breath and just play catch with me. Don’t worry about the batter.” Or, “I told him to follow through, just like we practiced.” Wise counsel from someone who needs reminding to brush his teeth and to use deodorant.
His coach has told us that he’s the best player in the league, and in fact, some of the “major” league coaches are scouting him. (Not the major majors, you understand. But the coaches of the older kids. My husband and Brady know what this means–I’m just in the stands, cheering when everyone else does.) Baseball has become something that means so much to both of them. Billy has volunteered to coach the young pitching “staff” and with amazing patience, teaches them the physical mechanics of pitching and how to strategize their pitches. Brady has gained confidence and leadership skills he’s not even aware of, and has developed a focus that has helped him in school and other places because of baseball. And it’s something both of them, father and son, can share and discuss and analyze–man to man. More than a game, it’s a common link for the two of them.
As I sit on the bleachers, I’m watching: Billy, looking backward through this current experience and reliving the golden, glory days of his youth, and Brady, looking forward and planning for his future in the game. Me? I’m just here in the present, looking forward and backward, and enjoying the view. I never understood what was so good about sports, but I think I’m finally starting to understand.