Wednesday, October 28, 2009

All Star

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He’s the last batter of the final inning in the last game of the Karns little league T-ball season. The bases are loaded, and my 6-year-old son Bobby steps up to the plate. This is his moment—his chance to be the hero.

Bobby eyes the ball, winds up, and does a complete 360--clearly missing the ball. He regains his concentration, fixes his stance, and whacks the T--again missing the ball. Undeterred he gets back in position, takes a deep breath, and…smacks the ball past the pitcher, past the second baseman, and into the outfield where not a single player is ready to retrieve it. Bobby sprints to first, doesn’t stop at second, rounds third at full speed, and slides triumphantly into home on his belly. He hardly notices that the other team is in the dugout by now. The only cheers are the ones from his parents, but his smile proves that’s enough.

This was Bobby’s first year for organized sports: soccer in the spring, baseball in the fall. We were surprised that he was already “behind” many of the other players who began as young as four. We wanted him to start in the non-competitive league where there are no outs, every player rounds the bases, and everyone gets a trophy. Bobby didn’t seem to mind that he was literally head and shoulders above some of his teammates. Skillfully he blended right in. I was thrilled to see that Bobby was given the #7 jersey (my number from softball). Bob got nostalgic as well, pulling out his first baseball hat from second grade.

Not wanting to be over-scheduling parents, we’re choosy about our children’s extra activities. But we didn’t hesitate to sign him up for little league baseball. Sports teach so many valuable skills: coordination, teamwork, taking turns, paying attention, and one day, learning how to be a gracious loser. And there’s something magical about this All American sport; it’s practically a childhood rite of passage.

There were times when I dreaded the mad dash of getting the boys fed, the baby nursed, the dog her dinner, and Bobby dressed in time to be on the field by 5:45pm. More often than not Devin’s face was smeared with dinner remnants and Brooke needed a diaper change just as the game started. It was a good day if I remembered toys and extra layers for the younger two. The crowd consisted of four dozen faithful family members who generally remained quiet. But we all secretly beamed with pride when our little one stood poised at home plate.

Today all the extra chaos sports add to a family’s life melts away because it’s the All Star game. The four teams of the league combine to battle it out as representatives of the American and National Leagues. It’s a beautiful, crisp sunny day when these pint size peanuts have the privilege of ascending the hill to the big ball field. Their faces are giddy with anticipation.

Adding authenticity to the spectacle is the announcer who calls their names over the loud speaker. One by one, each player tips his hat and bows. When it’s Bobby’s turn, he bows with the flair of an Elizabethan prince. He knows this is a big deal since I’m shooting video with my professional camera. This is an occasion to be recorded for posterity.

The game only has two innings—perfect for their short attention spans. The players show off their improved skills. A few times they even come close to making a real out. Bobby proves he’s no baseball prodigy and I doubt scouts, scholarships, or the major league are in his future. And no, he couldn’t really claim to be the hero in today’s game, but that wasn’t the point. Today was about making every kid feel like a hero—to let the youngest players of the game taste glory. Thank you to everyone who helped our happy, normal, well-adjusted son feel like an All Star. This is the good stuff of life.

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