This is not going to become one of those sappy homages to baseball at the dawn of a new season. This will not be one of my annual love notes to the baseball gods, romanticizing the absence of a clock in the game, and waxing poetic about how it is the lone major sport in which the people do the scoring instead of the ball. We all know these things to be true. While I could write about the fresh scent of the infield before Game Number One, or the eternal life-affirming optimism that comes with all teams being tied for first place for a day, I will pass.
This will be even better than that.
My son begins his first season of organized baseball on this unseasonably chilly, late March evening. His uniform is clean, his glove oiled, his cleats muddied with pre-season infield dirt, and his attitude unblemished by previous errors, strike outs, or base running blunders. His slate is clean. At age 12, this is his inaugural campaign, and I could not be more proud of him, or scared to death for him.
I am proud because this was his idea. He wants to play a sport that I am passionate about, but I have never steered him towards playing. It was his decision to take this challenge. I admire that.
I am even more proud that he is facing this baseball season without fear, at least not obvious fear. He is behind some of his teammates in game experience by 5 or 6 years, yet he is attacking each play, listening intently to his coaches, asking me for tips, and consistently wanting to try one more at bat, one more grounder, and one more pop fly. What he lacks in instinct and grace he makes up for with joy and tenacity. When that ball rolls past him to the fence, no one runs harder for it, or bounces right back more quickly for the next bad hop that is sure to come his way. He has no emotional scars from the “sun getting in his eyes” on a fly ball, and this is good.
I am slightly jealous of this time in his life. Baseball revealed its’ cruel side to me as a child. I learned early on that getting hit by the pitch was as good as a hit, and while I was happy to finally be on first base, the lingering fear of the inside fastball meeting bone ruined my otherwise promising career. Other factors might have contributed to my failure at baseball. Is this the part where I blame my father? I loved the game and understood the game intellectually, but I just couldn’t do it very well physically. I opted to read the daily big league box scores, attach low value baseball cards to the spokes of my bicycle tires, and argue with Yankee fans about how Oscar Gamble would never lead them to a championship, and how Jerry Grote was a better all-around catcher than Johnny Bench. Ignorance is strength as a kid.
Those days of innocence are gone (some would argue that my days of ignorance are still with me), and I don’t miss them. At least I thought that I didn’t miss them, until I watched my son living through his own days of innocence. Playing baseball without memories of ever having made a mistake in a game situation is something I can no longer remember. It looks pretty fun, though.
My son begins his journey into the world of Little League baseball with a team record of 0-0. He is on a first place team, or at least tied for first, and has the same perfect batting average and flawless fielding percentage as every other kid out there. Just for today. If I could just freeze this moment in time…