The Boy wasn’t born with athletic ability, nor the patience and/or drive to develop any, so when he expressed a desire to play baseball, I should have been thrilled. But he was around 10 at the time, well past the time when all the other kids had already been playing. Sure he had played Tee Ball and I enjoyed every hilarious scrum when some kid would tap the ball off its plastic perch. When Tee Ball ended, all the other boys moved on to Little League. The Boy didn’t. He never really got the concept of team sports. He once got upset while playing a soccer “game” because the other boys were trying to kick the ball away from him.
He could have played baseball if he really wanted. The thing is his mother and I both work and we live in an area where most families have either stay-at-home moms or the parents work locally. With me commuting to Manhattan, getting The Boy to any kind of after-school activity is difficult to impossible. So it wasn’t a big deal when he didn’t express an interest in baseball. Besides that, I was relieved because of what playing Little League would do to the psyche—mine, not his.
When I was growing up, Little League was just as it was portrayed in the movies. The bigger kids always pick on the smaller kids. The good teams always beat the bad teams. The parents are way too competitive and the coaches hate any kid who isn’t super-talented. That’s just the way it was except in real life, the bad team never got to go to Japan or be coached by Walter Matthau. I was always in the latter group of kids. Being kind of a skinny, quirky kid, I was sort of the mascot for the older kids in my neighborhood. They let me hang out with them as long as I was willing to climb the barbed wire fence and stumble down the huge ditch to retrieve any wayward balls. One time, a bunch of the boys came to get me and I happened to be at a baseball practice. They asked my mom what position I played and she told them “left out.” Who knew she had a sense of humor?
But I digress.
The Boy suddenly wanted to play organized baseball and I flashed back to every scene in the movies and every bad experience I had. I imagined The Boy being picked on, teased, taunted, excluded. But I managed to to keep my insecurities to myself and I only reminded him that most of the older boys have been playing for a long time. And not just Little League. There are multi-level rec leagues and travel teams as well. But The Boy was cool with all that. So I relented.
The Boy lacks talent but he also lacks self awareness. Either he doesn’t know or he doesn’t care. I watched him play whenever I managed to make it home on time. He wasn’t the worst kid out there. Plus, he was having fun which, I was assured, was the most important thing (of course, the people who tell me that have super-talented kids). The other kids were nice to him, at least outwardly, and the coaches never left him out.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago. I show up for one of his games just in time for it to be called on account of lightning. So I collect The Boy and his stuff and we walk off to my car. At that moment, I hear the three words I’d longed to hear for so many years:
“Nice catch, Liebowitz.”
It was yelled from a passing car by a teammate of his. And it was yelled without a hint of sarcasm. The Boy apparently made a great catch which was still being recognized after the game was over. He waved nonchalantly and told me about the catch. I acted impressed and told him how awesome it was without making it sound like I was shocked.
“Nice catch, Liebowitz.”
I’d heard those words before but they were directed at me and in a far more obnoxious tone. Now those words have a totally different meaning. And I can breathe again, at least until next season starts.
Now I have time to stress about his grades…