It's baseball season again and who needs it? A fan I'm not. My interest waned considerably at age nine, when I was hit between the eyes by a wayward pitch. "Take your base," the umpire yelled.
As I walked rubbing the throbbing goose-egg on my forehead it occurred to me that first base was in the general direction of my house. One did not have to hit me on the head twice. So I kept walking, and successfully avoided any contact with baseball for a generation.
However, when one has acquired a wife and six-and ten-year-old sons, one gets involved in many activities that sane people normally avoid. So when my older son came home excited and announced that he had made Mario's Little League B team in Arlington, I forced a smile, patted him on the back and reluctantly said: "Good for you."
It would be a challenge for the coach, I thought. Just to get a team of boys like my son to do anything. I had been trying for two years to get him "organized" into a daily routine of carrying out the garbage. He certainly had not made that team. I was still the only player.
Somehow my son sot me out in the back yard "chucking a few" to him every afternoon. It was sheer torture. The balls I managed to catch stung my hand and unmercifully jarred every bone in my arm. Was the first baseball a cobblestone? I wondered who was the masochist who thought up this sadistic game.
Then, as the season progressed, we set up batting practice in our back yard. When my son batted he offered this advece: "Don't close your eyes, Dad," he said, "and you can catch the grounders better."
He didn't know that I didn't want to catch the grounders better.
After a cracked window pane on an upstairs bedroom window from a foul ball, and a grand slam through the dining-room window, my wife threatened to pack her suitcase and leave.
Well, I thought, I might develop some affinity for baseball, after all. But she wouldn't take the kids, so we held future batting practice at Tuckahoe school. There he hit a hard line drive, which I missed.
"Our coach says if you can't stop the ball with your glove, stop it with your body," my son yelled, laughing. "Next time fall on it."
"Wide-mouth kid!" I said as I trotted heavily into left field. "Who needs you?"
But after a few weeks my hands became numb (and, I suspect, part of my brain) and the ball didn't hurt quite as much. I was going to all the games and to many of the practice sessions held twice weekly. To my amazement I began to look forward to the next game even though my son spent most of it on the bench. But I never loved it. And finally the season was over the day of the picnic.
After a cookout the coach handed out trophies. Then the mothers played the B team and the fathers of the A team played their sons.
Fortunately for me, my son was on the B team, and my wife had the honor of playing against him. They used a softball - my kind of ball. The mothers were up to bat first. The first lady struck at the ball.
"Put the mother out!" someone yelled.
But the mother hit the second throw and got on first. The next mother hit a grounder near second base, where my son was busy watching a colony of ants. But after the ball hit him he somehow picked it up and stepped on second, forcing the first batter out. This was his great play of the season. But later, my son, the original male chauvinist, suffered complete humiliation when a mother struck him out. He said a few words that I wasn't aware he knew and vowed he would never play baseball again. I should be so lucky: He was playing the next inning.
The pitcher for the mothers was great. She struck out several players. The highlight came when she caught a short fly and put her own son out. He went after her with a baseball bat.
Next came the fathers vs. the A team. They were desperately short on fathers. Just as I was being asked if I would play, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that they were going to use a real baseball. Quickly, I stiffened my right leg and limped a step. "Bad sprain," I said. "Sorry." Then I limped slowly away from the field. Once out of their sight, I ran home, where I sighed in relief. I was free of baseball - for another season, anyway.
But just as I sat down on the patio to relax, up walked my six-year-old with his brother's cap pulled down almost over his eyes and carrying a bat, ball and glove.
"Here, chuck me a few," he said. "You can be Vida Blue and I'll be Pete Rose."
I sighed and tried to appear interested.
"Who's Vida Blue?" I asked.
"Daddy, everyone knows that!" he scolded. "He's pitcher for the Giants."
"Oh," I said.
I was too embarrassed to ask who Pete Rose was. CAPTION: Picture, no caption, By Linda Wheeler.