Friday, April 24, 2009

Double Header and a Sticky Wicket

I've never been a sports fanatic despite playing a mean game of field hockey in my youth and an even more cut throat approach to croquet now. But one thing I love is little league baseball. I do not pretend to know how to follow the intricacies of scoring, strikes and all that; I do know how to sit on the bleachers and take in kids having fun. Both my boys were blessed in being in a league with enlightened coaches who stressed love of the game over winning; who taught sportsmanship and fair play. Lessons they have been able to carry over into their adult life. My grandsons are equally blessed with good coaches, men and woman who emphasize skills and fair play; who do not allow tantrums from players (or parents); who do not tolerate name calling; rough play and cheating.

I am puzzled by one sign at the local park. It exhorts adults to be respectful of the umpires. "They are our children", it reads "And one day they might be yours"! I think I know that feeling having more than once informed my boys I was about to give them away! Their response was usually "nobody will have us, Mom, you're stuck". Stuck indeed and how grateful am I for that.

I was at two games last night. The youngest grandson is at the level where the coaches pitch and still have to remind the kids which direction to run. Last year Henry was in T Ball. His hat displayed a large W. His team was the Rattlers. So what's the "W" for?" I asked. "Wattlers" he replied in full innocence. These kids cheer on both sides; and hug their team mates in an imitation of the behavior they see in adult leagues. Let's hope that's the only behavior they emulate.(Wish more of those professional players could understand how truly rich are their lives in their ability to be a role model for kids. ) They shout encouragement along the lines of "run", "go back", "great hit", "good eye" and of course, "heads up" as the assembled parents run for cover. I was remembering a game one of my boys at that age played many years ago. One small player between bases was being urged to both make it to second and to stay put. He turned to the side line "Mom" he yelled.

The older boy is in the majors! Hot stuff. They don't spit but they do wind up, give those weird hand signals and gaze with total trust at their coaches. Oh and let's not forget the slides any opportunity the long, sometimes graceful, always dramatic, slide onto the plate. What wonderful concentration and total enjoyment. A couple of weeks ago Ben got to throw out the first ball at a U of A game. Such pride and focus. And I wonder at what stage does winning above all creep in and the joy of the game give way to that stress. Last night, between his game and his brother's game I took Henry for a hamburger. "Man" he said "we won by seven runs and they won by nine". Winners all!

Ben and Henry play in Canyon View Little League in Tucson. Kudos and major thank you to the truly superb coaches they have...the example they set will be with these young kids for life.

Perhaps what I love most about these baseball games is the gathering of parents, grandma and grandpas, uncles, big brothers, chirpy little sisters, dogs; gossip flows; connections are made; a springtime community is created. A world away it reminds me of the village cricket matches of my youth. Blankets on the grass, cucumber sandwiches, men, young and old fielding a village team, impeccable in "cricket whites"; games often lasting over the entire weekend; rain, more often than not stopping play for half-an-hour. There was real community in those matches; gatherings at the local pitch was an extension of the 'over garden fence' way of connecting people.

I get nostalgic for a small, connected community way of life. It is so easy to go each our own way , heads down, windows up. Baseball games remind me of the simple pleasures to be had in gathering with others and sharing a more gentle life.

As for a sticky wicket - it's a cricketing term meaning a difficult situation - comes from wet grounds making it difficult for the batter - the bowler has the advantage in that the ball can bounce unpredictably on the wet grass. My sticky wicket today is more literal - I have Gorilla glue on my hands. Was trying to repair a beautiful yellow pot that got blown over in last week's winds!

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  1. As a parent with a child in the same little league about which you've written, I can attest to the devotion of the coaches (one of whom is my husband) and the kids' love of the game.

    Thank you for a beautifully written piece that gave me a tear in my eye and an interesting bout of NOWstalgia (that's nostalgia in the present tense).

  2. Gerry,

    WOW! Thank you so much for putting it all into perspective! I loved your take on the sign about the umpires . . . when I had the signs made I just wanted the parents to understand that someday one of those umpires behind the plate might be their own son or daughter and to give them the respect that is due them.

    A great many of my days and evenings are spent at Mehl Park handling the current crisis but very seldom do I get a chance to actually watch the ball games. Periodically though my husband and I will sit down and watch one of the games if only for a few minutes. It's moments such as these that make me realize how fortunate I am to get to know the parents and players of this league. To me, Little League is a very connected community and it is my way of life.

  3. Very nice comments. We love every minute of being at our kids' games. . .soccer and baseball! Glad to hear others enjoy the experience for the same reasons I do.

  4. Yep, I remember when my youngest daughter played T-Ball. Smashed the ball into the outfield over the second basechild (not hard to do given the size). She then proceeded to run as fast as she could following the path of the ball straight to second base. I laughed so hard at the poor coaches trying to get her to go to first base. Miss those times.

  5. Love these glimpses into your world. Thanks to them, I'm opening my eyes wider and really seeing what's around me. I've two nephews in Little league - will share this with my sister.
    San Diego

  6. Thank you for your beautifully written piece. Each spring I spend hours at the ball park watching my children play. At times it seems like a lot to fill into our busy schedule but over the years it has given both kids and their dad, a coach, so much. I do look forward to the connection in the stands. Hope to see you there.


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