This year is going to be different; I told myself this as I sat in the bustling cafeteria, sipping hot coffee and watching my son schlep a bag of gear bigger than himself toward the gymnasium.
For the first time, I am glad I am not allowed to watch.
He wasn't crying. He wasn't sporting the start of a shiner from when his father -- feeling guilty for going a whole year without throwing a ball around with his son – pitched him a fastball in the minutes prior to the big evaluation that the poor boy caught with his face.
That was last year.
This year IS going to be different.
This year, as in past years, my son has all the enthusiasm of a team full of kids.
He even has everything he needs unlike previous years. All the tools of the trade are now at his disposal: a mitt, a bat, a pair of batting gloves, a few baseballs and a helmet. Of course, this collection was the product of two years of birthday presents from people who understand the game as well as the fact that this kid's parents are clueless.
… Which would have been evident to anyone who noticed the bag he was dragging into the gym: a homemade duffel made out of striped sun-colored canvas.
It looked like he was going to the beach.
I shook my head. Who am I trying to kid? This year won't be so different. It's not as if any of us have changed.
My husband still loves soccer.
My son still says he loves the sport, but his attention is constantly being syphoned away by any number of distractions from passing butterflies to the epic battle (complete with sound effects) between the superheroes and the regular heroes that is always playing out in his mind.
And it's not as if I'd rather have a root canal than sit through another baseball game, but I still feel the same uneasy anticipation that I have always felt whenever my little player takes the field.
The big difference now seems to be the other players.
There are fewer of them like my son.
Increasingly, they are starting to focus on the ball. They connect with it on more and more occasions. And when they do, it doesn't just hit the ground and bounce harmlessly toward the pitching coach. It sails into the air on a direct path to the fence … where my son is usually playing air guitar.
Now, I don't care if the kid ever becomes a modern Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays but I'd like for him to live to see the third grade.
Getting beaned in the head by a ball he wasn't watching doesn't seem to be a likely way to meet that goal.
So we had THAT chat … the one where I try and talk him out of loving baseball. The one where I try to show him the player I see by straightening out the fun house mirror he's been gazing into. The one where I try to tell him, ever-so-lovingly, that I don't think baseball's his game.
Of course, I just wind up stepping all over his feelings and tripping over mine.
“No, no, no … that's not what I meant,” I plead when his eyes well up with tears. “I didn't mean any of that to say you are bad at baseball. All I meant was that you don't give it the same attention you pay to other things … like video games and imaginary creatures.”
It occurs to me that right this very second the only thing I can do is drink my lukewarm coffee and hope this is the year baseball will finally leave an impression.
And that the impression it leaves won't require a trip to the emergency room.