If a woman has to choose between catching a fly ball and saving an infant's life, she will choose to save the infant's life without even considering if there is a man on base. - Dave Barry
Last fall I wrote about learning football when my youngest son conspired with his father and became a running back behind my mother back. Baseball is different. I give permission to play every year because I know all about baseball.
I have two sons: Will and Liam. (Will + Liam = William and that, technically, means both of my sons have the same name. This works though because they are both named after their father whose name is . . . William.) Bill, Will and Liam love baseball. Upon entering 3rd grade in their Catholic parish school, each boy joined the baseball team with Bill’s enthusiastic support. They have each played baseball since – straight into high school. Will is a senior; Liam is a freshman. I have been watching my Williams at baseball for 10 years. At an average of 12 games per season, and a 75% attendance rate, I have watched approximately 90 baseball games. Because of Liam, I have 3 more years – or approximately 22.5 games – to go before I am done.
So don’t try to tell me about baseball. I know all about it.
1. The first rule of baseball provides that “strike,” “out,” and “error” are code words used by adult men against under-aged boys on the field to ruin the ride home from the game and the rest of the evening. With my Williams, these codes do not evoke any overt display of emotion. It goes like this: Will jumps into the air to catch a ball whizzing 6 feet over his head across the infield. He misses. I turn to a knowledgeable I-should-be-the-coach father sitting next to me and say anxiously, “Was that an error?” Because I am asking about my son, not his son, the helpful father responds, “Yes. Pretty bad one. He really should be able to jump much higher than that and snag that ball. What a shame.” I then start my Rosary in advance of the long ride home where I will have to watch my son Will, sitting in the back seat, framed in my rear view mirror, staring mournfully and silently out the window, sometimes with a small tear running down his cheek. This is what “strike,” “out” and “error” mean in baseball. (“Ball”, “safe” and “hit”, on the other hand, are happy words in baseball and make the ride home a time for good jokes and laughter.)
2. The second rule of baseball is that, when watching the younger Williams play, do not sit anywhere near William the Elder. My husband can watch his sons play baseball, conduct a conference call on his cell phone, calculate the boys’ batting averages and holler corrections to the plate umpire all at the same time. It’s so hugely distracting – not to mention annoying – that I do not sit anywhere near him, unless we are at a professional baseball game, like the Giants, where they serve beer. Beer helps.
3. Another rule in baseball is that I am not allowed to communicate with the baseball coach. Never. Not ever. Imagine all three Williams, sitting sullen, poking their forks at their pasta, after a multi-error game with several strikes and more than one out. Suddenly, they open up and start talking. They say, “the coach is not giving Liam enough game time” or “the coach told me to stand that close to 3rd” or “the coach gave me a wrong sign.” Imagine the Williams talk about the coach for one hour and 45 minutes – now gulping down their dinner – and agree that the guy is a “jerk of the first order” and “someone needs to talk to him.” Then they all 3 go to bed and fall asleep like contented, well fed babies.
Awake and agitated, I am not allowed to send an email to the Athletic Director that says, “I am a tad worried about communications on the baseball team, sir. There are several points of advice my husband and sons would like to convey to the Coach and I wonder if you would encourage them all to get together and talk it out.” If I was to write and send such an email – and the Williams find out about it – I would be banned from baseball like someone who placed a million dollar bet against his own team. But, no worries. The Williams have never talked trash about the coach or the umpires. Never. Not ever.
4. Many spectators to the sport do not know that players enter an entirely separate dimension of reality when they walk onto the baseball field. I can prove this. When my sons are standing at the plate to bat and the opposing pitcher throws the ball directly into their bodies instead of across the plate (hilariously called “an accident”), it does not hurt. The pitch can be going 50 miles an hour, slam an elbow, a toe, a rib and throw them onto the ground, and still, it does not hurt. I might gasp and find myself lunging toward them, anxious to hear their last words, when they pop back up, spin idly, toss the bat casually and lope to first base as if slightly bored.
But after the game, when they re-enter my reality, that very same event transforms into a painful injury requiring comfort, ice, 3 Advils and time off school the next day. When I call the school to tell them that a William will be late, I am prohibited from saying, “He was hit by a ball at the game yesterday and I am letting him sleep in with a pack of ice.” Instead, I have to say, “He may be coming down with something but it has nothing whatsoever to do with getting hit by a fast ball yesterday at the baseball game because that did not hurt at all.” Then, I go to Reconciliation.
Here’s another proof that the baseball occurs in a different dimension. My son Liam, because he is a snot-nosed freshman at our Catholic all boys high school who must be reminded of his inferior place in life, spends more time benched than his brother Will who is superior because he is a senior. Often, the superior players on the field hit a ball that leaves the field entirely and hits atop parked cars or buries into dense bushes around the perimeter. The coach yells, “Get the ball.” The benched players leap from the dugout and run – yes, literally leap like gazelles – and start crawling under cars and through shrubs in search of one small ball.
Mothers watch this with dismay. We sit dazed by our sons in motion. We look at each other with wide open, unblinking eyes. “I asked him to take the trash out last night. I even said, ‘please,’’ mothers moan. “What did he say?” we mutter, knowing the answer. “He said it wasn’t his trash,” we all mumble, as we watch our sons covered in muck and prickles trot back proudly with a ball they did not hit out of the park.
I know a lot more about baseball than just this. I can tell baseball jokes, too. When one Dad said to me, “Who’s on first?” I said, “No, that’s William.” And he said, “I thought Will’s on third.” And I said, “Who’s on third?” He got annoyed, so I added, “Just joking, William’s on first and third.” I turned back to watch my freshman Liam play first base and my senior Will play third base, happily chuckling.
I get a hoot out of myself, knowing all about baseball as I do.