Wednesday, May 26, 2010

In the middle of baseball season

When my 11-year-old’s baseball season ramps up, with three evening games and one practice a week, I sometimes catch myself musing that this isn’t quite as much fun as I remembered it being when I thought about it over the winter.

Well, of course. The long, dark, snowy days of winter are when my son, who really dislikes cold weather, tends to become pallid and fade away a bit. At that time I remind myself of what he is like at his best: playing shortstop or on the pitcher’s mound, stretching for a fly ball, winding up for a pitch, taking a practice swing on deck.

But in the thick of baseball season, where we are now, it’s harder for me to remember just why I looked forward to this time of year. Since my husband coaches Tim’s team, both of them are gone four evenings a week from five in the afternoon until nearly nine at night. It’s too early for dinner before they leave; they’re both weary and hungry when they get home, and I spend a lot of time throughout the season trying to think of dinners that I can make early in the evening for Holly and me but that will still be tasty when reheated hours later. This approach to cooking isn’t so hard in the winter, when stews and casseroles are typical fare, but harder with summery meals.

Also Tim gets so tired with all the night games, and often returns home with mild injuries that make it all the harder for him to drag himself through dinner, shower, and bed. Last night a pitch hit his side, leaving a big circular pink bruise. He’s a good sport, but I know it hurts.

And it’s not ideal for Holly and me, either. Since Rick is the coach, there isn’t as much pressure on me as there is on some moms to be at every game, but I try to show up at least half the time. Unfortunately, Holly is not the kind of younger sibling who adores watching her big brother compete. Most evenings, she’d rather stay home. Occasionally I can rouse some enthusiasm in her for going to Tim’s game for at last an inning or two, but that’s usually when the game is at a field where she has a vague memory of once seeing an ice cream truck.

Nonetheless, there are good parts to baseball season. On a warm spring evening, sitting on the bleachers can be a blissful interlude in a busy work week. I run into plenty of friends at the games and can happily pass an inning or two just gabbing with them; Tim doesn’t know the difference. But I also spend a fair amount of the time I’m there watching him play, because I love to watch him play. I’m not a huge baseball fan, but the sight of my own child throwing a fastball or fielding a grounder astounds me. “I created that child, and he can do that?” I marvel silently. “I understand how he learned to read, and swim. And even talk. I was part of it. But how did he get so good at something that has nothing to do with me?

In this respect, baseball is a rite of passage, not so much for Tim as for me. It’s the first thing in his young life that he’s really good at which I have no competency with whatsoever. Even though he’s eleven, sometimes I just can’t get over the fact that he’s branched off from me so visibly. I know nothing about how to play baseball; he knows a lot about it. And this is just the beginning. Maybe he’ll follow me in all kinds of ways – maybe he’ll be a runner, a journalist, a parent, a baker – but maybe not. Maybe he’ll learn to fly a plane, or do surgery. Maybe he’ll speak Russian.

Back in infancy, he was physically dependent on me, and he’s still in many ways emotionally reliant on me, the way children are with their parents at least up to their teen years, which still seem far off. But he’ll grow to be someone different from me, as different as he wishes. Knowing how to pitch a baseball is only the very very beginning of this process.

Spring league ends soon but summer baseball begins soon thereafter. I still have months of night games left to go, and along with them tired children and reheated dinners. But also warm sunlit evenings, energetic ball players to cheer on, and yes, ice cream trucks. All in all I like baseball season. And next winter I’ll try to muster a little more appreciation for non-baseball season, with its early evenings and family dinners.

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