This may be the first summer in 15 years that we haven't suited up one of the boys for baseball. Josh is the only one playing baseball at the moment, and we learned on Monday that his league has decided to cancel games for the summer. It's a crushing blow for all of us, and yet another daily reminder of how COVID has wreaked havoc on our lives.
I have been a baseball fan in some form or another since I was around 10. My dad coached Little League when my brothers played and maybe for a while longer after they moved on. I recall my dad sweating over lineups each night before leaving for Labor Field, trying to plan for a variety of scenarios that might occur with 10-year-old baseball. My mom was his biggest fan so the whole family went to most games. I remember nearly daily trips to the snack bar for Fun Dips or Charleston Chew, and a win almost always meant a trip to DQ on the way home.
Eventually I got a little more involved with the game and learned to keep the scorebook for my dad's team. I had an ulterior motive, though, in that I had a crush on half the team, and after I was hit by a foul pitch because I wasn't paying attention to the game, I was banished from the dugout. Every spring and summer we spent 3-4 evenings each week at the park, and when playoffs were finished and we transitioned back to a more normal academic year schedule, I was always a little sad for it to be over.
Being a baseball parent was a whole new experience for Hans and I, and we embraced it whole heartedly. Hans was always eager to coach, but his schedule was irregular and he worked many nights, so he always had someone in the wings when he had to leave for a gig. He, like my dad, spent hours creating lineups, tracking pitches and moving position players to put the best team possible on the field. He still happily recounts some of his greatest wins and most painful losses, like Bay State Semi-finals vs. Natick, on a regular basis (today, in fact!). He has truly experienced the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, usually in the same weekend.
Being a baseball parent who sits in the stands is a completely different experience. You can almost always pick out parents of pitchers. They are the ones with chewed nubs for finger nails, pacing in the outfield, or fidgeting in their bleacher seat, hoping that if they cross their left leg over their right and put one hand on their head, it will bring their kid luck on the mound. Parents of batters turn from reserved spectators into Major League hitting coaches when their kids come up to the plate, screaming across the diamond their tips to improve poor footwork, wild swings, or slow timing after each pitch. I can put up with almost anyone in the stands except the parents who criticize other people's children with no regard for the parents sitting near them. Over the years I've asked many parents to keep their comments to themselves, and more than a few have turned to me with some scintillating comments of their own.
The baseball parent experience gets worse as the kids get older and their parents think they have a shot at a Major League career. Parents document everything....they come to games loaded with pen and paper for notes, video and still cameras to record clips for recruiting—and the gear: bags of wooden bats and aluminum bats and first basemen gloves and catcher's mitts and bat weights and cleats for grass and sneakers for turf and cups and batting helmets and more. We were lucky to make the baseball journey from Cooperstown to CCHS with a few families that were sane and could always find the humor in any situation.
I can recount so many amazing baseball moments, highs and lows. There have been 2 trips to Cooperstown, travel baseball throughout New England, and AAU league games up and down the Eastern seaboard. There was the time that Josh threw over 110 pitches in an extra inning game to win a tournament, and time Hans left Josh at the practice field and didn't realize it until he got out of the car at the game field and couldn't find Josh. There was the time Max broke his thumb while catching and we told him to keep playing, only to find out later he would need surgery to repair the thumb. And the other time where Max single-handedly executed a triple play! There were moments of extreme glory when one of the kids would make a knock-out play or get a clutch hit for a win. Then there were the moments when you just had to smile and take it, like when your kid dropped an easy fly ball and the other team scored the go-ahead run. Or when the other kid struck out swinging with bases loaded and the tying run just 60 feet from home, or threw 12 balls in a row and just handed the game away. They are incredible memories, and I'll have to remember to write down the Natick game story some time so Hans doesn't forget any of the details when he is old and senile and still telling that same story to anyone who will (or can) listen.
We're holding out hope that Josh will play a little ball this summer, even if it is just a short tournament. We're more worried about whether there will be a Fall season at school, or even a Spring one if we can't keep the virus under control. Josh's freshman baseball experience at Denison was only 8 complete games, too few to really tell the story of a team that everyone predicted would make the national tournament. Next season holds so much promise, and I'll be there to cheer him on from the stands or live stream, whether for 8 games or 58!