Saturday, July 17, 2010

Annals of the game...

The season that began with promise four months ago has ended for the Warrren Park Cardinals. What was to have been our first playoff game disappointingly ended before it began as we had to for the only time this season, forfeit the game because we couldn't field the minimum eight players. The kids did get to play a game for fun with two of the Red Sox players subbing for our no shows. We ended up losing a very tight game making everyone wonder what might have been had we been able to field a complete team.

Yet the promises of having fun, of learning a wonderful game, of bonding friendships, of teamwork and sportsmanship have all been fulfilled.

And to top it all off, the Cardinals even won a few marvelous games, four to be exact. Winning isn't everything but not winning at all would not be much fun at all. That is what almost happened to the Mets this season. Until they played us that is. I have mixed feelings about our defeat, our guys didn't play very well, I didn't coach well, and most of all, the Mets played great. They deserved to win and we deserved to lose. The absolute joy on the faces of the Mets kids (and parents) on the other side made our loss tolerable.

As for my boy Theo, well he's been in a bit of a slump. He was going gangbusters during the first half of the season culminating in his great performance with his first home run and his first save. But we've been working on some bad habits at the plate which, while they didn't prevent him from being an good hitter at the beginning of the year, would hinder him in the future. Now thanks to our coaching, he's become self conscious of these little problems, and consequently is struggling with the bat.

Where he once swung with gusto at pitches way out of the strike zone, he's taken to watching almost every pitch go by. In the game against the Red Sox, their pitchers struggled for control, Theo was out twice to end the inning on called three strikes. Then in his last at bat, again bases loaded with two outs, he got a squib hit beating out the pitcher's throw to first by sheer hustle. That combined with a spectacular relay throw from short to Andrew at third for an out plus a few other good plays in the field, made his final appearance for the this year's Cardinals a positive one.

Other kids on our team had good games as well, Liam made a terrific diving catch of a fly ball in right field, Andrew hit a couple of doubles and a triple, and everybody got on base at least once by virtue of walks if not hits. Thomas who spent all year batting last, batted in the five hole and even got to pitch one inning. He walked three then gave up a grand slam but before the fifth run was able to score to end the inning, he managed to get three outs, the third by strike out.

Quite honestly I can't say who had more fun this season, Theo or me. A few of the parents razzed me a bit for my over-zealousness. While they spent practices and games in their lawn chairs socializing, I took it upon myself to be self-appointed coach, filling in where I thought I could be useful while trying my best not to over-step my bounds, and keeping my big mouth shut where necessary. I'd always be there, glove ready, to help warm up players, or the pitcher between innings while the catcher donned his "tools of ignorance." Or I'd be filling in with the bat at infield practice while the real coaches were busy with other things.

Like most kids I dreamed of being a big leaguer one day but most of my diamond exploits were played in my head. I never had the opportunity to play Little League but did play a little ball in my day, mostly 16" softball. So to answer the obvious question, am I living vicariously through my son's fledgling baseball career, the answer is obviously, yes.

Pathetic? Perhaps. But I've learned something very valuable this summer. There are folks that think of sports as frivolous entertainment. At best they are diversions from the mundane realities of life, at worst a tremendous waste of time. Yet since my boy has become obsessed with sports, he and I have never been closer. We've played hockey, football, and soccer together as my father and I once did. We shared the Bears' up and down season, the Super Bowl from across the sea, the World Cup and the magnificent Stanley Cup season. Baseball which was his entry into sports just last year has become his true passion. Mine as well now. The Cubs are still his team but he will gladly root for the White Sox who gave him several autographs and the opportunity to run the bases in their infield during Kid's Day at the ballpark a couple of weeks ago.

Perhaps the most fulfilling moment came last week when the family went up to visit the in-laws in Wisconsin. I couldn't go because of a work obligation. Normally we'd take our gloves and bats up to there to play with Theo's grandpa and uncle. When they got back I asked him if he played any ball up there. He said: "no, it's just not as much fun without you."

It's something I might have said to my dad forty years ago.

The circle remains unbroken. I can't wait until next year.

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