It's tough to see the baseball season come to an end.
Sitting on my favorite bleacher, I watch the last game where my team, the Mets, are pitted against the Giants. I holler as my favorite player trots onto the field toward the batter's box. He carefully ignores my cheers -- a subtle reminder to tone it down a notch.
He places his feet the proper distance from home plate, pushes his batter's helmet back so he can see, hikes up his drooping shorts, lifts the black-and-yellow metal bat off his skinny shoulder, and waits for the pitch.
The pitcher (his coach) holds the ball up for him to see, then carefully tosses it to him. He swings, catches air, and the ball sails past him into the face mask of the catcher who is staring at a beetle in the dirt near his feet. A quick recovery followed by a short, dusty chase after the errant ball, and the catcher throws the ball back, somewhat near the pitcher's mound.
The second pitch is the charm. The batter swings, connects, and pauses to watch the ball soar away before his reverie is interrupted by loud cries of, "Run! Run!" erupting from the bleachers. He's off, like a slow bullet. He jogs around the bases in a nearly empty field as the entire opposing team stampedes after the flying ball, leaving their coaches (volunteer parents scattered around the field) to holler, "Hey! Come back here!" to their seemingly deaf squad.
The batter rounds first base, reaches second, pauses until he pushes the batter's helmet back enough to spot his third base coach, responds to his wild gestures to keep going, trots on to third, then heads home, arriving there just ahead of a scrambling herd of peewee Giants carrying a ball they've collectively cornered and triumphantly bear home.
He stomps on home plate, peels off his batting helmet, heads to the dugout, turns back to retrieve the black-and-yellow bat, then grins and ducks his head as he passes the cheering bleachers and his noisiest fan (me).
The dugout manager (his mom) pats his back as he enters the dugout, collects the batting helmet from his head and reminds him to put his baseball cap back on. Like all his teammates, he's 6 years old, a little more than 3 feet tall, and just happy to be there. The dugout -- a typical concrete and chain link fence enclosure -- is a cage of jostling kids as the players shuffle around in the dirt, climb up the fence, and eat popsicles to stave off the heat. Some of the time they pay attention to what's happening on the field. Most of the time they don't.
I glance over at the next field where two teams of high school-age players are battling out their last game of the season. Over there, the intensity is palpable. Every boy's attention is riveted on the game; every one of them -- at the least for the moment -- can't think of anything but winning, and it shows in every move, every stance. It's almost unnerving.
I look back at the miniature players scampering around before me. They're here mostly because their folks think it's a good idea for them to play a team sport, get some exercise, and learn how to win -- and lose. They're OK with that. So periodically they grab a bat, swing hard, sometimes connect, trot around the bases, then get back to eating another popsicle.
I find myself wishing it could stay this way. Maybe every summer I just want to come back to these bleachers, climb up to my favorite spot, and cheer for him. Maybe I just want him to be able to stand there, swing a bat, hit a ball, run some bases, and enjoy the experience, no matter the outcome. Maybe I just want life to be that simple for him. For me.
But it can't be. And it won't be. He has to grow up, and we have to move on. He'll get older, taller, more serious about this game, try to hit farther, run faster, play harder -- and win. Every time.
When that time comes, the score of the game will determine whether he wins or loses. But for now, in this simplest kind of season -- where his family cheers for him, his level of involvement is realistically low, his joy is derived from the simplicity of the experience, and he has no regrets -- he gets to win every single week.
No need to keep score.
Contact Louise Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org