The other day, I passed a city park and saw a Little League team practicing.
It was the usual mix of mini-athletes exhibiting solid baseball skills, hyperactive youngsters burning off energy for no particular baseball-related reason, and dreamers doing things like drawing in the infield dirt or looking for animals in the clouds.
As a boy, I was one of those dreamers. I stood out in right field and observed things — like smoke rising from the hamburger grill and pretty girls in the stands and grass growing under my feet. Anything but baseball, which moved too slowly to hold my attention.
If the other team hit a fly ball out there, everyone had time to get my attention and at least give me time to get out of the way.
I enjoyed Little League much more as a parent. Like any activity, it gave me an opportunity to identify the talents of my children.
And I’m not talking about whether they were going to play shortstop or pitcher in the Major Leagues.
They weren’t going to play in the Major Leagues. Aside from the fact that I didn’t have any athletic ability to pass down to them, I read somewhere that the odds of a Little Leaguer making it to the big leagues is about 1 in 3,500.
In other words, if you have a son playing Little League, he has a much greater chance of becoming a doctor or lawyer – or starting a small business and becoming a millionaire — than he does of playing a game in the Major Leagues.
Of course, that doesn’t mean kids shouldn’t play sports or pursue another activity they have close to no chance of doing professionally.
And it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t dream big.
When he was 6 years old, one of my sons was watching me grill on a Saturday evening, and I asked him if he would grill for his own family when he grew up. He looked at me, dead serious, and said he wouldn’t be home on Saturday evenings because he was going to be at Turner Field playing for the Atlanta Braves.
I love that about kids. As a little girl, my daughter told me she was going to win the Nobel Peace Prize as a ballerina, which I imagine involved dancing so beautifully that all the people and nations of the world decided to work together.
Another son said he was going to be a lawyer and an astronaut — at the same time, which I suppose meant he’d be defending clients in outer space.
Like most kids, they moved on to other things and formulated other dreams.
And kept participating in a wide variety of activities.
This gave them the opportunity to try new things, work toward a goal, be a member of a team, learn to deal with authority, and all the stuff that you don’t realize you’re going to have to learn.
And as I said a minute ago, it also gave Bess and me the opportunity to assess their skills, and I’m not talking about getting base hits or scooping up ground balls.
The little girl who enjoyed helping others is now an inner city schoolteacher.
The little boy who liked to rake the field, anchor the bases and keep the stats is studying to be a civil engineer.
His younger brother, who as a 5-year-old enjoyed striking up conversations with his adult coaches and arguing with them when necessary, is headed to college to study business and probably go to law school.
And their younger brother, the wise guy who when he missed a ground ball and his coach told him to put his glove on the ground, took off his glove and laid it in the dirt, wants to be a celebrity chef.
We’re still working on that one.
If you have a kid playing Little League this spring — or participating in any activity — I hope you enjoy the season.
Just remember that the game they’re really playing is probably not the one you think they are.