by Charles W. Dowdy
The national anthem sounds as if it’s being played through a garbage can. The little speakers mounted on telephone poles cackle and hiss above us as the eyes of the entire baseball complex turn to the small US flag above the concession stand.
On five different baseball fields players remove hats and stand at attention with their hands on their hearts. Perhaps they do this out of patriotism, perhaps because of the heavy stares of their parents from the stands, imploring the children of different ages to bestow this simple honor on their country.
No such honor is being given on our field. Our players are throwing balls at each other, discarding parts of their uniforms and chasing butterflies around the outfield.
The anthem ends with a less than enthusiastic “Play ball.”
So begins another “coach pitch” little league baseball game.
As I take my place among the camera-laden parents and grandparents along the first base line, I can’t help but inspect my counterparts for any signs of the mass hysteria that grips baseball parents around the country. Even here, at the cradle of competitive baseball, I know some of the normal, mild mannered citizens among us will experience some crazy transformation and foam at the mouth at the sight of each miscalled strike or scream for the umpire’s head at each questionable tag at second base.
Things are not quite so serious here on the tee-ball fields. Who cares about million dollar contracts?
This is the fleeting age when a hesitant four year old can be bribed onto the field with the promise of a free corndog at game’s end.
There are no winners or losers in these games. Everyone gets to bat and no one strikes out, although you can see an occasional flash of despair or embarrassment when the tee is brought out for some players, and you know this is because someone older, a brother, a parent, has alluded that the tee is associated with some kind of failure.
Do I see anyone among us to be concerned about? Is it easy to see the ones who will fall prey to the intensity of competition and scream their thoughts for all to hear? No. I see parents urging their children on. I see mothers laughing when their children sit down at the pitcher’s mound and start playing in the sand.
But I do have a bead on one guy. This father politely asked the coach to pitch the ball lower to his son, then told us by way of explanation that the coach needed to get the ball down in his son’s wheelhouse. I don’t know if the pitch ever got down to that wheelhouse, but the kid dribbled a ball toward first, then promptly took off running for third. As long as the coaches cooperate we shouldn’t have trouble with that parent this season.
Something as simple as a trip to or from the car by way of the other bleachers is enough to remind anyone that change is only a birthday or two away.
“Daddy, is that momma’s little boy in trouble?” my son asks as we witness a particularly harsh exchange from a mother who did not agree with a call. How do I explain that her anger was directed not at her son but the person of authority on the field? How do you say that perhaps she’s only trying to project success on her children where she herself only met failure, or perhaps mediocrity at best?
I don’t. I can’t. And even as I have these thoughts I see that my daughter doesn’t have her bat back far enough. And I see that my son has his glove on the wrong hand.
I don’t say anything, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to. That doesn’t mean I don’t want them to meet a measure of success I failed to attain. Of course I want them to be that child who could hit a ball out to the fence or throw a strike when the game is on the line. And it doesn’t mean I will be no less committed when I deem that someone has denied my children that opportunity through their own incompetence or ability to see what actually happens on the field.
Will the veins stand out on my neck as I hurl these thoughts toward the field? Will another young child on the way to tee ball cower near his father’s legs as they walk past me?
I don’t know. I’ve still got another year of “coach pitch” tee ball. So until then: Batter up, our nation’s favorite passtime is waiting.
Hold on a minute, the man on deck is chasing butterflies.
Charles Dowdy is the father of four and the husband of one. He’s a freelance columnist for several Mississippi newspapers. Editors may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charles Dowdy's web site is not to be missed! He has to be one of the funniest, most irreverent writers in the South . . . or anywhere. Go see!
For more stories by Charles Dowdy, visit these USADS pages:
Goodby, Debt; Hello, Ricecakes
The Waiting Room War Zone
Small Towns & The 3 Second Intersection Rule
President Bush, Sponge Bob, and a Banana
The Twins Journal
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