All I knew about baseball was popcorn, peanuts, cracker jacks, home runs, the seventh-inning stretch, and something about a nation’s pastime.
Nobody told me that baseball became a life inside of your life. Nobody told me that baseball was Tuesday and Thursday, and Saturday and Sunday, and sometimes Tom I need you to be at the field Wednesday from 5:30-9pm for a travel ball game. Nobody told me there’d be teenagers dressed up like fox and kitten “furries” who “interacted” with one another at the concrete picnic table next to where your six year old was practicing.
Nobody told me that nachos at the Snackshack would come with a cheese-like product that they pushed in glops over the cheapest-ass round tortilla chips of all time.
“That’ll be four dollars, please.”
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Nobody told me that you needed a roller cooler, a Tommy Bahamas twin pack of lawn chairs, a large umbrella, and a study guide with a glossary of terms so you don’t look like the one dad who wasn’t a former professional baseball almost-pro— save an ankle twist.
Nobody told me that there would be pictures, ceremonies, invitations for birthday parties for the 3rd basegirl’s baby brother, and that if you missed a single letter in your GPS you’d be taken to a field on the other side of town while trying to make sure your son has his crotch protector inserted properly.
All they told me was baseball.
“Baseball?” I asked. “Why’d it have to be baseball?”
“He likes it,” said my wife, “Besides, all of his friends are there so we set it up.”
And there it was.
She had set up baseball. Not karate, which I had done as a child. Not soccer, which I think I could have managed what with all the actual moving that baseball seemed to lack.
Baseball. And I knew absolutely nothing about it. Nil. Nada.
Oh sure, I’m a red blooded American male. I knew there was some number that meant a percentage of how many times you ran from point A to point B after hitting the ball. Something like .245 or .437. I had learned that from my dad at perhaps the only baseball game I had ever been to as a child. “You mean to tell me that someone who gets on base ⅓ of the time is a great player?” I remember asking my dad. And that was about it for me. At least the hotdogs weren’t bad.
I mean what kind of sport is it when a kid is literally building a sandcastle while he’s supposed to be guarding a base? And is it really my job to yell at my child whenever a nation’s pastime is so boring that making a sand angel seems like more fun? Exactly how many times is watching 9 kids chase a ball rolling slowly into the grass worth video memory on your phone?
It’s a mystery. And it didn’t take long for me to start arriving a little late, or leave a little early because I had work to do or because I needed to run errands. I’m ashamed to admit it. But that’s where I was.
Fast forward about five years, and baseball felt as though it was a second job. Each and every year I just couldn’t understand why we kept saying, “Yes!” Wasn’t it obvious to my wife, to my son, that as the littlest boy on the team, and no where near the fastest or the most enthusiastic, that this time could have been better spent elsewhere? If it was, no one ever said anything.
I never got it. Until one afternoon when after arriving late, I just missed my son’s only at-bat. He slunk back to the dugout, too far for me to say something to try and pump him up. Just then, I overhead a couple talking under their umbrella.
“He’s hardly ever here. No wonder his son looks like that,” said the husband.
“Good try there Tav!” Shouted the wife. “You’ll get ‘em next time!”
Later that night, I sat in disgust of myself, thinking about what the couple had said. I thought about why I hadn’t shown more enthusiasm for my son. The answer, as it always had, kept popping up into the fore of my mind: You don’t like baseball, Tom. This was forced on you. You would have picked something else.
But then I heard the woman’s voice again, “You’ll get ‘em next time.” And I thought back to the very start of baseball. It had been my wife who had set up baseball, true. But she had set up something. And there were more thoughts coming now, fastballs coming at me, curve balls too. Sure, every year he could have said no, but he didn’t say no did he? Every year he said yes.
Because he liked baseball. It was what he liked to do.
Like a home-run speeding over outstretched hands in my mind, I saw the memory of that lone baseball game my own father had taken me to, fall in front of my wide eyes. Why hadn’t he taken me again? Why was it the only game?
And then the answer fell next to it — just like that: because I hadn’t liked baseball. He had liked it, but not me. He must have noticed. How could he have not? It had been karate that I had liked to do. And so sometime thereafter, we did karate. And my dad had always been there. Cheering me on, even when I lost. Even though karate wasn’t what he wanted to do. You’ll get ‘em next time, Thomas. He would say.
After that night, my son chose to play baseball for a few more years. We would practice sometimes in the evening. I found an old mitt at the flea market, and kept a blue lawn chair in the back of my truck.
I discovered that he had gotten pretty good, and when he hit a magnificent home-run his last year to close out the season, I had gotten pretty good at shouting for him.
Sometimes I wondered if it wasn’t that I had gotten better at it. Sometimes I wondered if I did it well because it was just something I liked to do now.
Thomas Courtney is a 46 year old father of two kids, neither of whom like to surf enough. He teaches 5th grade in San Diego.