Leo’s First Baseball Game

It was a perfectly imperfect game. Everyone made contact with the ball. Eventually. Errors were made- typically several on each play, though I’m not sure how the scoring works when teammates tackle each other in a rugby scrum fighting for a ground ball. And no one made an out. Ever. The Evanston Tigers, my five-year-old son Leo’s team, did battle with the Evanston Diamondbacks, and I think the final score was something like 26-26, not that anyone was keeping score.

It was a two-inning game played in front of a couple dozen parents- many of them standing on the field hectoring their children to “RUN, RUN, RUN! Or ‘THROW TO FIRST BASE! NOW! HURRY!’- on the first radiant day of Spring in Chicago, a day when seemingly every able bodied person in the city ventured out of doors like long held prisoners just released from the can, to feel something we’d forgotten all about over the long, dreary winter. The sun.

Leo was sent out to play pitcher in the top of the first and, proud parent though I am, I couldn’t help but wonder why? In a 4-6 year old t-ball league, the pitcher gets the most action and Leo’s an enthusiastic, if inattentive player, who is still working on figuring out how to squeeze his mit to trap the ball inside it.

“I can’t squeeze it!” he complains, when I try to show him how to catch the ball. And so instead of trying to catch balls on the fly with his glove, he uses his body and tries to trap the ball against his chest or arms with the glove. The pitcher’s mound that Leo stood next to seemed to be about 10 feet away from the plate and I couldn’t help but worry that someone was going to knock the poor kid’s head off.

My fear seemed unjustified though as the first two Diamondbacks hitters did nothing more than graze the ball. After a number of whiffs and hacks at the tee that were graciously considered “foul balls,” one of them hit a little dribbler in Leo’s vicinity and I yelled at him like a lunatic to “grab it!” I couldn’t help myself you see. Leo didn’t exactly field the ball cleanly but he did pick it up and throw it in the general vicinity of first base, but alas, the first baseman wasn’t paying attention, so it turned out to be a single.

As the Diamondbacks number three hitter, a Latino with a smile on his face rather than the look of fear most of the other players had, strode to the plate, their coach warned our team, “This guy can hit, you might want to move back.”

He wasn’t kidding. The kid looked like what Roberto Clemente must have looked like at age 6. He had a sweet stroke and smashed the ball off the tee on the fly into the outfield. A procession of lesser mortals followed, and each eventually made contact. Leo stopped a couple more grounders and again managed to throw the ball in the general vicinity of first base but our team was unable to record any outs, and after everyone on their team scored, it was our turn to hit.

The Tigers were more or less as good as the Diamondbacks, who also failed to record an out in the two-inning game. A few of our players seemed unsure if they wanted to bat righty or lefty but everyone managed to make contact. Eventually. Leo, like everyone else, had two hits, both on solidly hit balls. He did spent a little too much time standing around on both occasions, admiring his hitting prowess, and on both at bats he wanted to bring his bat with him to first base, but, hey, he was 2-2, same as everyone else, and I was pleased with his effort and how he looked in his uniform.

I was the first base coach and I spent the two innings jumping up and down and waving my arms like a lunatic trying to hail an ambulance. When you’re five years old, finding first base can be a tribulation, but I was there to be their lighthouse. There was one mother who tried to usurp my first base coaching by standing next to me and repeating the same information to her son that I’d already told him. An occupational hazard, I suppose.

After an hour it was all over and after a 1-2-3 Tigers! chant the heroes enjoyed their snacks and basked in the “great game! you were terrific!” adulation of their parents. Somehow, it seemed as though the game meant more to us than it did to them.