Baseball and Father's Day (but not Squishy and Sentimental!)
My greatest baseball accomplishment came when I played for the other team.
I was six. The Alma Pee Wee Squad was in Sweet Springs, and Sweet Springs found itself with just eight players that night. They needed to borrow one of us.
Who would it be? Of course it wouldn’t be Kyle Lovercamp, our starting pitcher that night, it wouldn’t be Jeff McKeage, the team’s best hitter…
“Sebastian, you’re gonna play for Sweet Springs tonight.”
I looked to either side. Me? The kid whose belly stretched his red mesh jersey so the white t-shirt beneath made him look like a squashed barber pole? The kid who didn’t open his eyes when he swung? The kid who, as far as anyone could remember, had never made a catch in practice and who needed the right combination of luck and wind to get the ball into the infield? Oh, right.
I have no memory of playing in the field, or talking to any of my new green-shirted teammates in the dugout. I remember one at-bat. Everyone on my team was smiling — I like to think that it was due to the mild absurdity of facing a teammate in a real game, but there may also have been the anticipation of an easy out.
Well, I showed them. Kyle pitched, I swung and made the best contact with the ball I’ve made before or since, lacing a liner that stayed in the air all the way to the outfield grass. I ended up on second base, huffing and puffing.
I take you on this little stroll down Nostalgia Boulevard only to register the extent of my surprise this week at finding myself in Dick’s Sporting Goods to acquire this assortment:
<Grumble Dad interlude> I had to ask around to find an adult glove for less than a hundred dollars. The display gloves were all $250-something! After we found one (above) the sales associate told me I could probably find it on Amazon for $20 cheaper. Helpful, perhaps, but at that point I just wanted to get it over with. <End Grumble Dad Interlude>
Over the last few weeks, the seven-year-old has found himself — through no effort on my part — obsessed with baseball.
He’s now about the same age I was when the Kansas City Royals won their first and only other championship in 1985, not long before I reached the personal athletic pinnacle detailed above. When I was almost seven, the Royals played the St. Louis Cardinals, and I was given the decidedly mistaken impression that Missouri was the heart of the baseball universe. My fandom has been on a steady decline since — notwithstanding the brief uptick in 2015 when the Royals won another title.1
But Ike was barely two then, and we haven’t watched much if any baseball since they began to dismantle the team. The game has never particularly loved me back: after that Pee Wee exploit, I was cut from Little League two years in a row. I’m sure the coaches, whoever2 they were, were doing what was best for the team, but the second year included a special indignity, as my younger brother made the team while I didn’t.
I don’t blame my own father for barely ever playing catch with me (I didn’t want to); I blame him for my poor hand-eye coordination.
Ike’s hand-eye coordination is better than mine was at seven, but he’s been mostly a soccer kid — that’s what his best friend plays and that’s what we’ve been doing this spring and summer.
But about a month ago, Ike and his best friend went to the friend’s older brother’s minor league game, and were smitten. Whether it was the slow pace of play, the dozens of walks, the intermittently competent fielding, or the lopsided 31-3 score, they both fell in love.
They’ve been talking about little else since: “If I like baseball in the [Little League] minors, then I’ll probably go to the [Little League] majors, but I don’t think I’ll play professional baseball. What about you, Ike?”
Despite my benevolent indifference to the sport itself, I’m compelled by his enthusiasm, and so took my first tentative steps toward Baseball Dad-dom.
It was only fair that we outfit Ike with a little gear appropriate to his interests. My daughter is already equipped, as she and I share a notion of the ideal summer pastime:
And so — even though they still don’t know what a force out is — we found ourselves at a ballfield Friday night, for a semi-organized pickup baseball game in which the two seven-year-olds were the youngest and most enthusiastic participants.
We’re going to play catch today. Wish us luck.
First-ever A Saturday Letter poll:
What’s the best Father’s Day song and why is it one by John Prine?
Vote for your favorite in the comments! Happy Father’s Day!
Every 30 years, like clockwork.
Gary Fiene and Adolph Heins, respectively.