The matching Red Sox shirts were a dead giveaway. The father and his little boy were dressed for Little League and making a quick breakfast stop at Mickey D’s.
The time -- just before 9 o’clock -- and the gray, poly pants with elastic waist band offered another sure hint. The little guy was dressed for T-ball. I struck up a conversation with the dad while we waited for our coffee.
“Heading to the ball field?” I asked, proving that my keen journalistic observation skills have not diminished.
“Opening day,” the father said with a slight smile that suggested, “Pray for me. I’m a T-ball coach.” Then he gave a little head nod confirming my hunch.
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The little boy squirmed, anticipating the breakfast platter. He was well-mannered, but a typical boy, oozing energy just waiting to bust loose. An hour later, it was fair to assume, he would be standing on the infield, alternating between being intently engaged in the batter’s movements and studying the fluttering path of a butterfly. Or perhaps he would be snapping his glove at the imaginary ball only his mind can see, and making the imaginary throw -- a laser in his mind’s eye -- to first base, which may actually be in the general direction of his throw. Or maybe not.
I wondered. Perhaps he will become his generation’s Derek Jeter. Or maybe this is just one of many fanciful pursuits of that magical time called childhood.
And what about the dad? Such a friendly chap. His patience and love for his son were evident. But what about when the game starts? Will he change? Will he morph into Lou Piniella the first time a kid swings at a pitch in his eyes? Probably not. But there’s plenty of precedent, sadly. If not him, then it will be someone else. Happens every year in every youth league across America.
In a flash, the memories flooded. Thirteen years ago, we were headed to those morning T-ball games. The Pioneer Pirates. Back then, I watched my son and wondered. Perhaps he will become his generation’s Chipper Jones. Or maybe this was just one of many fanciful pursuits of that magical time called childhood. We didn’t wear the matching shirts that year but would a few other years.
One thing I knew about this dad. I would not morph into Piniella the first time my son swung at a pitch in his eyes. Whether he would become Jones or a trumpet player in the high school band would have everything to do with his own desires and not my own.
This is our first spring in 13 years that life will not revolve around a baseball schedule. It is bittersweet. It’s liberating, yet a bit empty. But one of life’s lessons to be learned on the ball field is to play forward. Errors happen. Play the next play.
My hope for this dad and his son would be that they experience as much joy as we did. And for other dads, my hope would be that perspective is not lost. Your kid’s baseball future will not be ruined if he sits out a few innings.
My advice would be:
Learn how to bid low on eBay. Have you priced DeMarini bats?
To lessen the sticker shock, go shop new cars first. That will make those prices seem a more affordable. At least a little.
It also wouldn’t hurt to befriend someone with a son who’s 4 years old to get his hand-me-down practice pants. (An aside nod of gratitude to the Rulon family.)
Find a good team mom.
Don’t get addicted to the chicken baskets.
Make sure you have a digital camcorder and back up everything on DVDs.
Above all else, have fun.