Sunday, April 20, 2008

That First Taste Of Spring

We're pretty careful around my house about not having breakfast together. It rarely leads to anything positive. I specifically chose a career that gives me the flexibility to avoid my family in the morning.

Saturday there was no avoiding it, however. The Lovely Bride had class, the oldest had a tennis match (which he won handily), and the middle boy was running a 5K fundraiser with his soccer team. As for me, it was the baseball league's park clean up day, a chance for me to get up miserably early, rake leaves, and listen to my youngest complain. A treat under any circumstances and one made even better by cold rain and muddy fields.

Today didn't look much more promising at the start, although a couple hours more sleep and bacon for breakfast cut the swearing by at least half from the previous morning. My mother came by for a bit, long enough to remind us we're supposed to make sure the undertaker gives us the gold from her teeth after she's cremated. I told her to discuss it with someone else as I was confident, or at least hopeful, that I'd predecease her.

After that delightful exchange, I left with the middle boy for soccer. He had three scrimmages, each against an older team. He's already playing up a year and is at that age when kids get their growth spurts. His hasn't happened yet and he sometimes looks like a mouse dodging elephants. Fortunately he's sneaky and mean, and he holds his own.

As the last scrimmage was beginning, I packed up my chair and told my youngest to stop wrestling with a dog someone had brought along for the day.

"Where are you going?" another parent asked.

"The middle boy's catching a ride home from someone else after the scrimmages are over," I said. "I've got to get the youngest off to a baseball game."

"It's always about you, isn't it?" the other parent said. "Nothing for your children."

My youngest nodded his agreement. "He never does anything for us."

"Right. I'm the worst dad ever. Let's go."

By the time we'd stopped at home and made our way to the field, the sun had come out and it was the first real day of spring. Coach P. was already there, basking in the sun with a goofy smile on his face.

"Hey, how's it going?" I asked, nodding toward our players, most of whom were assembled and playing catch in the outfield. My son ran to join them.

"I love this game so much," he said.

I walked over to the opposing team's coach. Like my middle son's soccer matches, this wasn't a real game. Coach P. had arranged a scrimmage with a coworker who coaches a team in a neighboring city's league.

"Good to meet you," he said, shaking my hand. "Nice field you've got."

It is nice, part of a complex of five that we rarely get to use during the regular season. This early, it's not busy and we got in and dragged and chalked it for the game.

"The Thunderbirds are doing a flyover right before the National Anthem," I said.

He laughed. "Let's get started."

Coach P. said, "Give me a minute. I want to talk to our parents first."

We walked over to the bleachers where they were sitting while the players sorted through equipment. "There are just a few things I want to say before we start."

The parents stared at him. The ones who had sons on our team last year could guess what was coming. The others weren't sure.

"We'll be setting up a batting order at the beginning of the year and then we'll just rotate through it every game. That way everybody gets an equal chance to hit in every slot."

Nods all around.

"Second, if any of you have friends or relatives coming to watch, grandparents or what have you, let us know and we'll try to get your boy in to play his favorite position so he can show off a little."

More nods.

"Last, this isn't our team. It belongs to you and the kids."

Nods and smiles.

"Coach Snag, anything you want to add?"

"That covers it."

"Let's play some ball."

It was rocky, sometimes ugly. As we expected it to be. Because of the weather there's been little time to practice. With the first game of the year, the team's nervous and jacked up on adrenaline. On top of it, some of the boys are playing their first year with other kids pitching and that takes some getting used to.

It was harder too because the team we were playing is from a league that's one of our main competitors, both of us two of the better baseball associations in the state. There's been enough local notoriety for the players to pick up on it. Every mistake got amplified until along about the fourth inning, Coach P. called everyone over and said, "Come on you guys, you look like you're at a funeral. This is baseball. Have some fun." Simple as it was, it seemed to work.

We had some bright spots. My boy had a single, a triple, and a couple walks and two strikeouts and a crisp play on a ground ball when he was pitching. Coach P.'s son ended up walking three straight times, snagged a ball at first base that could have easily sailed over his head, and made a tremendous throw from center field to home, surprising the catcher who surely didn't expect one of his teammates to hurl it that far.

More important, we saw one boy almost catch someone at first on a ground ball to the outfield, a fine heads up play. I'd coached him in soccer before and knew he was an athlete, but that's different than knowing how to play baseball. Good news for us.

We saw another, who'd never pitched before, come in and immediately give up three walks. Coach P. called time and showed him where to release the ball. He struck out the next two batters and I called him Nolan the rest of the day. He still wouldn't give me any of his sunflower seeds.

Another, he never quite found his groove on the mound and we took him out, telling him he'd reached his pitch limit. He looked as though he might cry, but his teammates told him, "Way to go," and when his turn to bat came around a little later and he drilled one down the first base line and he came around to score later in the inning he was smiling, past troubles forgotten.

Best of all, two of the dads umped and a couple of them coached first and third base and Coach P. and I alternated between talking to the team and making sarcastic comments to each other and visiting with the other team's coach and sitting in the stands with rest of the parents and staring at the sky, filled with a sun that seemed a couple weeks ago unwilling to ever come out again.

In the end we played them close and nobody was keeping score, but I'm pretty sure they finished with more runs than we did. Even though it wasn't a real game, we'd brought snacks and drinks for everyone, our team and theirs, and after everyone shook hands the players and their brothers and sisters took a Rice Krispies bar and a juice box and said goodbye and left for home while Coach P. and the other team's coach and I, and our kids, sat on the bleachers for a few more minutes, talking about how much we love this game.


Jennifer said...

Sounds like a nice time. Add some pork and it would have been nirvana.

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

Can I come play baseball with you guys?

I'll buy the sunflower nuts.

Brando said...

Am I on the right blog? That was such a nice post.

fish said...

I thought this was going to be a recipe post. Did you cook one of the children after the game?

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

It's a cookbook!! Befouled!! It's a cookbook!!!!