Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Tim playing baseball

It’s what you might call an open secret that I don’t show up at too many of Tim’s baseball games. Even before Holly wrote an acrostic for Mothers’ Day and used the phrase “Not good at committing to watch Tim’s baseball games” for the very first letter in my name, I was a no-show more often than not.

It just doesn’t seem essential to me to appear at every game. Since Rick is Tim’s coach, Tim is always assured of one parent at the game. And I’ve never really bought into the cliché of “never missed a baseball game” (or soccer match or dance recital or skating competition) as the hallmark of an attentive parent. I go to some of the games, and I ask Tim to tell me about the ones I miss. He doesn’t read every article I write; I trust him to understand that I care and am interested in what he’s doing even if I don’t stand on the sidelines at every game.

But last Saturday I did get to the game, and it was the All-Star match-up, and it reminded me of what a joy it can be for a parent to watch a child do something for which the child has slowly and painstakingly acquired skills and honed talent. On the baseball diamond, Tim is strong, effective, sure-footed and confident; moreover, he’s happy and has fun. He was on the All-Star team but he’s not a star; he’s a good player among many good players, and that’s how he sees himself as well.

At the age of 12, the boys are no longer playing a kiddie version of the game. They pitch hard, run fast, swing the bat with considerable might and connect bat with ball a reasonable percentage of the time. Off the field, we parents reassure the parents of the younger kids still playing t-ball or in their first year of player-pitching rather than coach-pitching that the games really will get more bearable and move faster eventually. We try not to boast that our kids are at the point where it’s like watching, well, a real baseball game.

Seeing how graceful Tim is on the field reminds me all over again of that strange progression of parenthood, how when your child is young you have control over almost everything related to him: what he eats, what books he reads, who he meets, where he goes, even to some extent what images cross his field of vision. As a result, for a time he knows and experiences nothing beyond what you know and experience. And that gradually your scope of control lessens: he goes to school, meets people you don’t know, hears stories you’ve never read, learns about the Ice Age and the Iditarod and topics you’ve never thought about much at all.

And accordingly, he then develops abilities you didn’t instill. As an athlete, Tim surpassed me before he turned seven. Now, on the baseball field, he can execute moves I don’t even know exist. He’s in his own universe out there, one that hardly overlaps with mine at all. But getting myself to a game is one way to be part of this new universe, and although I don’t feel guilty about the games I miss, I’m full of delight when I do get there to watch him.

On Saturday, Tim’s team lost, and he didn’t have any spectacular at-bats or score any points for his team. But at one moment in the sixth inning, he was in the outfield when a member of the opposing team clouted the ball; it was the best hit of the game. Tim sprang after it and fielded the ball. The batter got to third base, which he certainly deserved after such a show-stopping hit, but Tim threw to the infield in time to prevent him from getting farther. Behind me, a parent I didn’t recognize who was rooting for the other team muttered with audible disappointment, “If anyone other than Tim West had been in the outfield on that play, it would have been a home run.”

This wasn’t a headline moment for Tim, but in a way, that underhanded and unintended praise for him gave the whole experience resonance for me. Tim’s team lost, but he played the strong solid game for which he apparently already has a reputation. And I was happy to be there for it.

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