There is a little boy living in my house. Very soon he will be 9 years old. Not really such a little boy anymore. He’s quite a kid, though. And he’s an awesome ballplayer. In fact, he is my favorite ballplayer.
We started him playing at about 3. Backyard stuff. Throwing and catching with his great-grandma. Batting with a plastic bat. Learning the basics of baseball. We pitched to him because he never did like a tee.
At 4, he got his first pair of baseball cleats from his Tia and I took him to his first Rangers game – a game where he sat and watched the action on the field. In the backyard, he was making up baselines and pretending he was Ian Kinsler or Josh Hamilton or Michael Young. He began to understand that not every swing he made was going to go over the fence.
When he turned 5, we put him on a rec league team – coach pitch. In his first game, he let a pitch go by. It was a ball and he knew it. The crowd was dumbfounded. The umpire called a strike. He learned that not all calls go your way.
In between games, he was watching the Rangers on TV; studying the double plays and imitating the batting stances. He discovered Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder and other great players from our opposing teams. (There was joy in Dallas the day that Prince came to play.) He saw that though someone may not be on your team, they add value to the experience.
In the fall season of first grade, they brought out the pitch machine. It was a tricky adjustment for the boys. Pitches were faster and not always over the center of the plate. He had to learn to make adjustments. He did and was the lead-off batter. When he got on base, he casually handed his batting gloves to the first base coach just as he had seen the pros do.
Spring and fall, spring and fall. Baseball. Second base, short stop, pitcher position, a game or two at catcher. Catching pop-ups. Fielding grounders. Throwing in to first. Making outs. He made his own first double play at 6 when he caught a pop-up and then tagged the runner heading to third. I couldn’t have been more proud, but he knew that he was just doing his job, helping his team.
In January of this year, he moved up to a select team. This season, he is playing center field – hustling and leaping and diving to snag a ball. This season, he is doing some of the pitching – finding the strike zone, learning control. This season, he finally gets to take a lead-off and steal bases. He’s been waiting to do this because the boy lives to slide – down and dirty every time. (Yes, that’s him sliding in my header picture.) And this season, he is struggling to connect the bat with the ball. He has a mental block about a 9 or 10 year old pitching to him. Sometimes in life, we have to think about our problems differently in order to overcome them.
The spring season will be over in less than a month. We have just three more games and one more tournament. The summer will find us loyally cheering on the Rangers. He will spend hours tossing the ball up in the air and running to catch it, or throwing it against a pitchback net. He will play The Show on his PlayStation® . We will read books* about our heroes and the legends of the game. We will watch The Sandlot and A League of Their Own.
This is our life – my grandson and mine. Baseball. No matter what else we do, it always comes back to baseball. It is the thing that bonds us together and gives us hope. We may strike out in the moment, but there is always another ball coming our way. As long as we keep swinging, we will get through it.
*There is a series of books about baseball legends (Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Jackie Robinson and others) for young readers by Dan Gutman known as The Baseball Card Adventure Series. I highly recommend them for any young baseball fan.