The Lost Boys of Summer

Bad-news-bears Skip: You guys. You lollygag the ball around the infield. You lollygag your way down to first. You lollygag in and out of the dugout. You know what that makes you? Larry!
Larry: Lollygaggers!
Skip: Lollygaggers.

I wasn’t an athletic kid. Sure, I played a few seasons of little league, but I was so bad, and my confidence was so shaken, that I spent most of my time feigning migraines and moping about the dugout. Those seasons, in hindsight, seem more romantic now—the beat-up glove and wooden bat, the brand-new pair of shoes. It was a moment in the sun and it burned me accordingly. It instilled in me an early sense of failure and doubt, which, for the record is the opposite of what it had promised.

I realize now that a lot of what I accepted as goofiness wasn’t really my fault. I was tall and skinny and had the coordination of a one-legged drunk. You couldn’t see me if I turned sideways. My legs went up to my neck, a breeze could knock me over, and my mother forced me to get a perm, which isn’t really relevant but still fucked up.

Luckily, for me, I had other strengths to fall back on and I made it through my childhood nearly intact. By the time I finished high school I was actually becoming quite the sports fan and could spend an afternoon shooting hoops or tossing around the football without looking like a total schmuck. Of course, I had missed the years of coaching and development that my peers had, but I had fun and I was no longer embarrassed.

This just in, being a kid is harder than it looks.

And so I was little hesitant when my son expressed interest in playing baseball. By interest I mean that the neighbor mentioned it to me and the boy wasn’t against it. The neighbor was the coach and by the time we had our first practice I would be his assistant.

Why? Because baseball is what happens between yesterdays and a good stretch, and watching a little league game is like watching children act out poetry. A boy in a ball field just feels right.

I couldn’t help myself, and it wasn’t long before the old fears became new again—I was afraid that I’d look like an idiot some 30 years later. I was afraid that my son would be just like me. I was afraid of not letting him try.

He had never played baseball. His two visits to Dodger Stadium had seen the game overshadowed by hot dogs and cotton candy. All he knew of bases consisted of Hoth and Echo and random games of tag. He had a used glove that he hadn’t worn in over a year—the last time I had tried to engage him in a game of catch, and the last time he had made it clear that he didn’t find it fun. I promised myself that he would not feel the pangs I once had.

The other coaches showed up with bags of bats and balls. I showed up with baggage and a box of granola bars.

This… is a simple game. You throw the ball. You hit the ball. You catch the ball.

Practice started on a sunny morning on cool, green grass. The team practiced this and they practiced that. The coach coached and I assisted, and in doing so I learned things about the game I had never known. Turns out I had never been taught proper fundamentals and technique despite three years of showing up to do so. I felt the stirring of confidence in a hole long left empty. I felt ghosts slowly fade away.

Walt Whitman once said, “I see great things in baseball. It’s our game, the American game. It will repair our losses and be a blessing to us.”

You can look it up.

My son took the field and he threw the ball. He hit the ball. He caught the ball. He rounded third and headed for home, a blue-eyed handsome boy.

On a sunny morning I stood on cool, green grass and felt my losses repaired. It was our game and a blessing to us.

A group of boys ran by me, my son among them. They smiled and laughed and turned left along the baseline.

There wasn’t a lollygagger in the bunch.

Rawlings_baseball

 

__________________________

With apologies to Bull Durham and John Fogerty.

A version of this post first appeared in 2010 on DadCentric

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