Baseball season sets my teeth on edge.
It's not that I don't like the game, exactly. It's more that I fear it.
I fear the hot sun and the foul balls that make their way into to stands. I fear the crowds and the crowing that make the experience uncomfortable for pretty much everyone.
But most of all, I fear that my kid is going to get hurt in every way a kid can get hurt.
From the moment my kid looked up and said he wanted to play in Little League, to the moment he stood out in the field – all decked out in his local business-sponsored duds – all I could do as I sat in the bleachers was pray he wouldn't get a line drive to the head.
He'd never see it coming. Not the way he did cartwheels, chased butterflies and laid down in the outfield, making angels in the grass. And he'd never live down the ribbing from his teammates if he survived.
People are as serious as a heart attack about baseball.
“Baseball ready,” is the mantra all of the best coaches use. And with those two words alone, you'll see a team of wrigglers straighten up and start catching pop flies.
Magic words aside, I can't relax.
Each year as baseball season rolls around I hope my Champ won't play. Each year I hide the papers that come home from school announcing sign-ups. Each year he finds them and demands to be signed up.
“This year is going to be GREAT,” he exclaims. “I loooooooooove baseball.”
And, each year, I reluctantly sign him up.
I know all the things that make baseball great. You have a simple game, with simple rules, wrapped up in a blanket of complicated histories and DNA strands of statistical facts. Anyone can play, but few play at all-star status, and fewer have the encyclopedic knowledge of a savant. There's as much reason for dubbing baseball our national pastime as calling bread the staff of life. It's all that and a bag of roasted nuts.
If I am truthful, I will say my boy's ability to focus on the game has improved from last season to this one. He may only do a few handstands during practice or when the other team is getting in its lineup. But there are still painful faces and tears when he strikes out.
Soon, I know, he'll come around. His face will stretch back into a smile.
Strangely, though the season is new, I find I am less anxious than I was.
I just hold my breath and clap between plays. I never yell anything.
Time, I tell myself. Time and practice. Every skill we learn takes time and practice. And as I watch, he scoops up a grounder and tosses it to the pitcher. I exhale a little of my pent up breath. He'll get there.
I have to suck all the air back in, however, when he slides on both knees in the grass as if he were reenacting a scene in “Risky Business” during a lull in play.
A new fear has arisen:
The team uniform called for white pants.