My son's team won the other week, 48 to 1. That may sound like a lopsided victory, but the score doesn't begin to tell the whole story.
The name of the game here is tee-ball, a pre-Little League version of baseball in which the ball is batted from a rubber-and-plastic tee set on home plate. Tee-ball rules limit a game to six innings and the number of batters a team can bring up in an inning to 10. (A tee-ball team runs to 10 players, including a wandering outfielder, a non-pitching pitcher and a catcher who most often lolligags against the backstop.) Thus, a perfect tee-ball score -- with the last batter in each inning sweeping the bases clean -- would be 60 runs, all of which is to say that my son't team on this particular day came four-fifths of the way to perfection. By contrast, their opponents, the Demons, were only one-sixtieth away from a king of negative or anti-perfection, which is not the same as anti-matter but may have somewhat the same effect.
Happily, though, fortunes change even in tee-ball; and the next, and last, time the teams met the score was a much more respectable 41 to 5. Watching the game, I was even able to envision a time when the curves might cross, with the Demons scuttling toward perfection while my son't team sank its way into the black hole of anti-perfection. And in a curious way I and the other parents there, I think, were comforted by the knowledge that, at least in the pure world of mathematical progressions, the underdog can become top dog and the top dog taste the bitter dregs of defeat.
But mathematics is generally for later; and parents, at any rate, are only the sideshow in tee-ball, the two-headed calves and gorilla ladies of the spectacle. It was to the field that my eyes kept turning, especially in that first dreadful win, wondering how the Demons could endure their humiliation. The answer, I thought, might have come in the third inning when the Demons' right-fielder lay down on the grass and went to sleep during a sustained rally; and it seemed to come again in the fourth when, under similar circumstances, the right-fielder pitched over in what from a distance appeared to be a coma-like state. (He was roused both times.) But the answer came finally, irrevocably, in the bottom of the fifth.
The Demons' two best players that day were girls; indeed, save for the first baseman on my son's team -- an eight-year-old whom John Thompson should keep a long eyeball on -- they were the two tallest players on the field. One could throw but not field, the other could field but had the arm of a wounded gander, and between them -- at second-baseperson and shortstop, with their pastel culottes and long braded hair -- they formed a striking figure, and something like a complete ballplayer. They even exhibited an admirable stoicism over their fate for most of the game; but in the bottom of the fifth, with my son's team at bat and sniffing its 40th run, all pretense broke down, and they fell to giggling -- uncontrollably, individually, most often collectively. Ka-pow , a grounder would go skittling through the legs of one of them and stifled peals of giggling would bounce across the diamond. Ka-boom , the other would make a nifty stop on a viciously hopping chopper, and loft a rainbow of a throw halfway to first. More giggling. It was glorious while it lasted.
In time, my son's team got through its 10 batters, the sides switched and the giggling went into the dugout, never to return. But sitting there in the baking sun, I couldn't help thinking how nice it would be -- should there ever be a major league game again -- if the likes of the Phillies' Larry Bowa and Manny Trillo, down by 10 runs to the miserable Cubs, would fall to giggling right there on the plastic infield of Vet Stadium. The history of the game could be re-writ large in something other than greed: Tinkers to Evers to tee-hee-hee, my favorite chapter would read.
We'll be gathering soon for the tee-ball picnic and all the players, winners and losers, my son't undefeated team, the winless Demons, and all the in-between will be getting trophies for their work. The hot-dogs will be there -- the baby Reggie Jacksons and Pete Roses who always jump on home plate with two feet when they score a run. So will the aw-shucks players who might claim a Stan Musial or Brooks Robinson as their model if only they had heard of either of them. And the bench jockies, the catchers and right-fielders will be there as well, free at last of that sense of personal attack that always came whenever a ball was aimed their way. But I will have my eye out for those two girls, and I hope that at least once during the afternoon they will give forth once again with that magnificent giggling, if only to remind us parents of what we would most like to believe where our children are concerned: that nothing bad -- not an error, not a 48-to-1 drubbing, not even a whole hapless season -- lasts forever.