I love baseball. I know there are many people who find its nine (if you are lucky) un-timed innings boring. I’m even one of those people sometimes. It’s all about the pace of the game. Unless the Red Sox are playing the Yankees and we happen to be on the assaulting end of an uneven score, give me a quick pitchers duel over a high-scoring pile-on any day of the week
Sadly, when it comes to Little League, you get more of the latter than the former. All I can say is, thank god for the mercy rule.
Saturday was my older son’s first little league game. The kid is a little behind his teammates in not only age (as the youngest on the team) and size (he is certainly the smallest) but also in experience. Last year, for some reason t-ball for his age group never organized, so he missed one last year of totally hitting the crap out of the ball and gaining the confidence of driving in a lot of runs. This year, he is old enough to play with the big kids. I swear some of them are already sprouting facial hair on their upper lip. Those first few practices, I was nervous for him, but it turns out, Jack has some natural talent. He is small but quick. He is aggressive. And this season, he is the starting second baseman because, according to his coach, he goes after a ball better than kids twice his size.
But put a bat in his hand and he hasn’t seen a pitch he doesn’t want to swing at, whether they cross the plate over his head or at his knees. Turns out, Jack is an all-glove, no-bat second baseman.
Yesterday, at his first at bat, I winced as the poor kid struck out swinging on three mediocre pitches. Like me, my son loves baseball, but given that he is only 9-years old, he doesn’t watch games for the thrill of a potential no-hitter. He wants to see homerun after homerun. He wants the Red Sox (his American League team) or the Nats (his National League team) to “get a lot of points.” And more than anything, this kid wants to make contact with the ball.
I knew he was sad after his second inning strikeout. I could feel it in his body language as he walked back to the bench to watch the player after him drive in a few runs. Between innings I said to my ex-husband, “he needs to not swing at every pitch. If he could work a walk and get on base, given his speed, he will score.”
Fast-forward to the fourth inning. Bases are loaded. Jack comes to the plate. He quickly goes down 0-2 in the count (swinging, of course). I yell to my ex, who is coaching third-base, “tell him to take the next pitch.” His dad is gesturing instructions to him, and of course, I’m not subtle so I am yelling this instruction myself because, let’s be honest, I am that parent. The pitcher winds up, delivers his pitch straight down the plate. Called strike three. Damn.
Tears welled in my eyes as Jack dejectedly walked back to the bench. It was my fault he struck out and I knew it. I saw his coach put his arm around him and give him what looked to be words of encouragement. Would it be worse for him to have his mom come over and apologize in front of all his teammates? I couldn’t let my son sit there on the bench and cry. So I went over to give his shoulder a squeeze and tell him I was proud of him. As he looked up at me, I saw one alligator tear escape from him, but I also saw a look in his eyes that told me he isn’t going to give up.
I kept my bench visit brief and while he still struck out at the next at bat, he at least worked a 2-2 count first (and honestly, one of those called strikes was totally a ball, it never even got over the plate). I know at some point I will probably have to have the “there’s no crying in baseball” talk with him (and maybe his dad already has) but given that I both delivered the instructions that led to the tears and almost cried myself, maybe I am not the right messenger.