Going Bats

By Jeanne Marie Laskas
Sunday, May 20, 2007

The batter smacks a gorgeous line drive toward third; the infielder makes a perfect grab and, in the same hop, rifles the ball to first, where it's caught with a solid thwack. "Out!" The fans applaud. Inning over. Nice play.

Right. I'm sitting here. Am I the only one having this particular thought? I feel I must say something, must release the pressure that this thought is putting upon my frontal lobe.

"Um," I say to a woman sitting next to me on the bleachers. "Some of these girls are 8?"

She smiles. She tells me that the third-base girl who just made that terrific play is, in fact, her niece. "Oh, she's turning 9 next week," she says, as if that explains all.

What the heck is going on? We're in the big leagues now, and I'm here to say my daughter and I don't belong. Put it this way: My daughter, who was supposed to bat next if that last out had not happened, is still standing there, with her batting helmet on and her bat over her shoulder, while the rest of her teammates are rushing out to begin the new inning. I can tell, by her posture, and because of our history together, exactly what she is thinking: Why is everyone leaving? I thought I was supposed to bat. And if someone were to say to her, which someone will need to say: "The inning is over, sweetheart," she will think: Inning? Over? But I was supposed to bat. And if someone were to say to her, which someone will need to say: "After three outs, your team moves onto the field," she will think: Out? Where? And: I was supposed to bat.

In her defense, she has been 8 for only a few weeks, meaning she is a whole lot more 7 than these girls tipping into 9, not to mention the giants who have graduated to 10. That's the league: 8-to-10-year-olds. It didn't seem so daunting on the sign-up sheet. In this league, you have to try out. There is, yes, a draft. My daughter was picked in the first round, meaning, I must assume, that there were some girls in the draft who the coaches thought showed even less promise. This, I've been told by some of the parents, is the real world. This is how athletes are made.

Athletes. Right. I'm not even going to think about how it was back in my day, in my back yard, when softball was my brother hitting pop flies for my sister to catch, while I stood there with my head tilted back, balancing my glove on my face because I liked the smell and because it kept the sun out of my eyes.

No, for nostalgia, I need go back only one year, to last summer, when my daughter was a Kitten. In Kitten-land, there were no strikes, no outs -- you were 7 or younger, and you swung until you hit (or until the coach got impatient and brought out the T), then ran the bases and then politely watched all your friends do the same. After everyone got a turn, you switched and gave the other team a chance. So civilized. So fair. A little boring sometimes, but afterward there was ice cream.

I watch while the coach escorts my confused daughter to her rightful place in deep left field. My daughter is motioning to me, small, pleading, insistent waves of, Get me out of here! I stand and motion back my own beseeching explanations, arms wagging below my hips in a way that is intended to say: You said you wanted to play! And: Sweetie, just stick it out a season, and then we'll decide. And: Maybe we should have signed up for soccer instead. And mostly: I'm sorry. I'm sorry you live in a time when, by age 8, a kid has to pick and commit to the sport she will love.

What if a kid decides, say, in junior high to try out for softball? It would be way too late. Imagine this third-base girl with four more years of experience under her belt. She and her equally amazing teammates would shame any newcomer into a life on the sidelines.

Finally, at the bottom of the third, it is my daughter's turn to bat. She moves to the plate, showing more confidence than I know she has; she swings and misses, swings and misses. I'm quite certain she doesn't know what a "bunt" is, but the contact she finally makes with the ball results in one, a dead ball landing at her feet. She's told to run, and so she bolts. The catcher goes for the grab and -- God bless her -- overthrows to first.

A miracle in motion, my daughter makes it on base, where she shoots her arms up in the air and begins to jump and dance, like Snoopy. I join her from rickety bleachers not built for such joy. "Woooo!" I am shouting. "Woooo!" We're waving at each other, high-fiving each other through the air. We're in the big leagues now, and we're going to have to learn how to behave -- but not yet, not now.

Jeanne Marie Laskas's e-mail address is post@jmlaskas.com.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company