I am not a fan of baseball. I’ve never understood the draw of the game, and could never comprehend the passion people have for it. My closest friends from college are all crazy baseball fans; they’re involved with fantasy leagues, spending hours arguing over who has better players.
I didn’t get it. After all, I didn’t play baseball as a kid. I never watched it on TV. I never played catch with my dad, who was never around. My only real experience with baseball was occasionally–very occasionally–going to Shea or Yankee Stadium to see games with my camp or friends. We’d sit all the way at the top, in the cheap seats, directly in the summer sun. There we’d sit, broiling, as all the action occurred amongst the ants on the field far below. In my opinion, a slower, duller game could not have been invented. Y-A-W-N.
When my son started to get old enough to become involved in sports, I steered him toward soccer, a game I always loved to play as a kid. He’d get plenty of fresh air and he’d be introduced to important concepts like teamwork and sportsmanship. Most importantly, he’d be running around a field at top speed for an hour, releasing all that energy! To my great pleasure, he wound up being a very good player. He was really fast, he had great foot work, and he scored lots of goals. He really enjoyed it. With the exception of one season, I was very happy to coach his team for five years. We had a great time practicing and playing together.
Then, one day in the third grade, my wonderful little boy–my little pal, the light of my life–uttered words to me that I hoped I’d never hear: “Dad? Can I play baseball?”
GAH!! NO!!! What have I done wrong!?! Why me?
Now, I must state here and now that I live in a town where baseball is not a game–it is a passion. It’s an all consuming thing that descends upon my little Connecticut town in the spring and devours all in its path. It is insane. I’ve heard stories from the parents of my son’s friends: thrice weekly practices, two and three games a week, games going into the late night hours on school nights. To put it bluntly, it was a nightmare!
The only thing I could think of was how awful it would be that baseball would cut into our family time. Everyone and their mother has read an article about how important it is to have dinner around the family table regularly, right? What was wrong with those baseball people? I could see the very fabric of my family dissolving. Then there were more concrete concerns: When would he get his homework done? And I’ll be damned if I would pull MY son out of Hebrew school early for any baseball related event! I was righteous in my indignation.
With those thoughts rolling through my head, I was able to put off his requests for a few months. I was SO hoping that it was a passing phase. However, it was anything but; he persisted in his requests. Then, as is usually the case, the always reasonable, sane, and correct part of me (which is also known as “my wife”) said in a not so quiet voice, “Let him play!”
And I said okay.
My son, whose hair shines like gold in the sun, and whose eyes twinkle like brilliant sapphires, looked up at me, his face beaming with the biggest smile I’ve ever see, and thanked me for being the best dad ever.
Thwarted in my attempts to squash his baseball dreams, we set off into the horror of baseball culture. I anticipated everything: this was the sport where dads fight in the stands over trivial issues, where boys cry when they are not allowed to play the position they want, and countless hours are flushed down the drain waiting in the broiling sun for something exciting to happen. I prepared for the worst.
At first, it was just as I had feared. Practice was twice a week on school nights. It seemed to magically always occur at dinner time. Games lasted for hours. I had no idea what was going on! I didn’t know the rules! To top it all off–and perhaps this is the worst part–my son was BAD! I was not a happy camper.
I couldn’t do anything about the first two issues, so I resolved to remedy the last two. I began grilling other dads about the rules of the game, as well as for pointers on how to improve my son’s skills. Like magic, dads who were previously only cordial to me became my friends. “AH! You want to talk about baseball? You want my opinion on baseball! Let’s talk for hours!” And just like that, I was admitted into their special club. Not only have I made new friends, but I have been able to gain significant help from this rich resource. I’ve only just begun to understand the game, but now at least I know what is going on out there on the field. I know that my son needs to hold the bat just so, to hold the mitt at a certain angle when catching a pop-fly, and to keep his eye on the ball. Loaded with what limited baseball lore I have been imparted with by the “Baseball Dads,” I started to practice together with my boy on a regular basis.
We practice his swing, his pitching, and fielding before the school bus comes in the morning. We hit the ball before dinner in the evening. After games I listen intently as he goes over critical plays, and analyzes his own strengths and weaknesses. And I‘m there to help him figure out how to get stronger and better. As the season has progressed, I see his improvement, and we are both rewarded by the recognition of the other kids and their dads of his successes.
After all these years of thinking baseball fans were idiots, I’ve learned something that I never did growing up with an absentee father. It’s not about baseball at all, not really. Baseball is really about fathers and sons. It’s about the shared experience, the mentoring and bonding that a little boy and his father have over a shared passion.
I’m humbled by the experience, and glad beyond words that I finally get baseball.