Is there anything better than youth baseball? If you said “A Jim Beam and Coke and the next season of Game of Thrones,” stop reading right now and go home and rethink your life. Game of Thrones is clearly a wine-drinker’s show because it’s the only time your wife will let you break out that enormous jewel-encrusted goblet you picked up at the Renaissance Faire from a rather busty wench named Hilda that your wife seemed to really hate for some mysterious reason and still complains to you about.
But, if you have kids of a certain age, you know the real answer to the question.
A few months back, my son came home and said he wanted to play baseball. This, I felt, was awesome because it meant I could take all the money I spent on soccer balls and soccer gear and soccer league registration fees and wish I could get it all back. I keep checking my bank account, but, no, the money has not returned.
It’s my own fault, because I am fortunate to live in the Chicago area and so I’ve been taking my son to Cubs games at Wrigley Field and now he thinks he’s Kris Bryant and Javier Baez AND Willson Contreras. Why doesn’t he think he’s Jose Abreu? (Zing! That’s a trick question!)
So I signed up my future hall-of-famer and this past Saturday was his first game. After only two practices.
We arrived at the ballpark about 40 minutes early because the coach said to and you always listen to coach. Upon arrival I immediately engaged in the time-honored practice of losing my son’s brand new batting helmet. Then I waited for the first game to end, but weather had caused a start delay and these are eleven to thirteen year old kids, meaning half-innings were running about 30 minutes each. Finally, the umpire ended the first game accidentally when he tripped. It turns out the signal for “game over” is the same as the hand movements for “break my fall.” But no one complained.
My son’s team is the Pirates (booo! …but yay because they are my son’s team) and they were playing the Cubs (Yay …. I mean booo!). The Cubs took the field and the Pirates came up to bat. The crowd quieted down and the umpire shouted “It’s really hot today!” And the game was on.
If you know anything about youth baseball, it’s predicated on the fact that every good pitch is a passed ball and every bad pitch is swung on wildly by the young batter. Once a batter does get on base, they are not moved over by additional hits, instead they steal second, third, and then home on every ball that gets away from the catcher, which, as I said, is most of them.
Unfortunately, the Cubs pitchers all brought their A game, leaving our poor Pirates with nary a hit for the inning. The Cubs then came up to bat and promptly scored 316 runs.
Finally, my son approached the plate for his first ever official youth baseball at-bat. While walk-up music isn’t allowed, no one could stop me from imagining it. So now I have Another One Bites the Dust stuck in my head (I wasn’t voted World’s #3 dad for nothing). Anyway, the results of the at-bat: Strike. Strike. Strike. He went down to one knee on each pitch, swinging for the fences. He looked like Anthony Rizzo, but he made contact like Jon Lester.
The next inning, he took up position in right field. It’s at this point that I have to admit that I have been living the dad dream the past few weeks by going to the park every weekend with my Rawlings glove and throwing the baseball around with the kiddo and asking him why he dove left when I threw the ball to the right. See, he really likes to practice taking ground balls, mostly because of the in-game heroics he sees from Javier Baez and Addison Russell on a regular basis. So I launch balls into the ground and let him go for it. Well, it turns out this is pretty good practice.
On that fateful Saturday afternoon, as my son stood tall in right field (about 4’2″ for the advance scouts I know are reading this), his eyes grew wide as the batter laced a sharp grounder past the second baseman. He raced forward and scooped up the ball, took one look at the runner and made an instant calculation. He fired the ball to first base for the out. From right field. In the runner’s defense, he may not have realized how hard he hit it, allowing the right fielder to get to it quickly. But my son didn’t make any assumptions and made the play.
When the Pirates came up for their final at-bat, I didn’t think my son would get another chance at the plate. But suddenly the Pirates started hitting and they had base runners! After a lengthy investigation, the hits were determined to be legal when authorities realized that the bats were actually making contact with the ball, which hadn’t happened all game.
The new problem? Every runner who made it to third tried to score on any passed ball. Two quick outs.
My son came up to bat and promptly coaxed a walk. It would be his first base-running experience. But it was not to be.
Ball four was a passed ball and the runner zoomed home from third, only to be tagged out by the catcher on a close play. Game over.
So the Pirates scored zero runs and lost.
There was no joy in Mudville.
My son said, “Hey, Dad, did you see that play from right field? How was my defense? How did I do?”
I said, “You did great, young man.”
And he smiled.