Sunday, June 18, 2017

Field of Dreams Come True

     My blog has been stagnant for almost a year.  So many wonderful things have happened in that time, and I have much to write and share about those experiences, but it would be very poor form to let today pass without a post.  I am, after all, the Transplanted Dad, and today is Father's Day.  While many fun and memorable experiences occurred today, for me, nothing could quite surpass what happened last Saturday.  On our calendar, it was an unassuming family event-- picture day for my son's Little League team.  A scheduling fluke meant our son didn't have a game that day, but his team needed to get dressed in their blue and white uniforms for their team and individual photos.  Less than 48 hours before picture day, the coach sent me an email, and a dream come true was in the making.  
         I scarcely had time to get all emotional and psyched up about playing baseball against my son.  His team is quite good, although he is not.  He is one of the youngest and most inexperienced players on the team, because of his August birthday (he's eight but some of his teammates are 10) and the fact that his first year is not "machine pitch," an innovation on how to help kids seven and under more able to find success at the plate.  However, my son is a natural athlete (unlike dad!) and he has taken to baseball quickly, particularly in the realm where I excelled in my 5th grade prime on the All-Star team, fielding.  My skills as a second baseman were unsurpassed, while my short stature, sharp eye, and relatively weak arms made me an ideal lead-off batter.  If I couldn't hit one into the gap or leg out an infield single, a walk was a virtual guarantee. 

          As I said, my son's team is good, and the other nine parents and I who were able to participate (my wife couldn't because of the short notice and a prior commitment) were not sure if we would win or lose.  We joked that they kids should spot us ten runs.  Our team consisted of two grandparents, two coaches (who have playing experience) a mom, and five dads.  Of all of these people, I was the youngest and the one who had played competitive baseball the longest (and most recently-- 19 years ago!).  Ergo, there was a lot of pressure on me (all of which I put on myself) to play well.  I wanted to impress my son-- to have the murmur in the dugout be "Oh, no, here we go again!" when I stepped up to the plate.  

     I was the second batter of the game, after  one the player's grandmas walked as our lead-off batter.  I looked out at my son, who had positioned himself, of all places, at second base.  I planned to hit it to him, but the bat I was using was woefully short.  I choked down on it and made a plan-- don't walk.  Even if I struck out swinging (also not ideal) I wanted to do everything I could to put the ball in play.  Of all the moments I will relate, the best highlight of the day-- the outcome of my first at-bat-- is at this link.  So much of what happened in my first at-bat was fitting in the context of my baseball past and my son's baseball present and future.  I ended up safe at first on a fielder's choice, and my son was right where he needed to be, covering second, to make the force out when the shortstop picked up my grounder and threw it to a kid who had never played second base in a competitive setting, but still knew exactly what to do on the play.  Perhaps it's in his blood.

     I scored that inning and we ended up with a total of three runs.  But, in part thanks to me throwing the first grounder that came to me over the first baseman's head (rusty!), the kids matched us in the bottom half of the first.  When we batted in the second inning, we weren't sure how many runs we would need to win the game, so we didn't let off the gas.  I hewed closely my own baseball past and knocked in an RBI while barely beating out the throw to first after the shortstop snagged my high hopper and whipped it across the field. I ended up scoring just before they tagged out one of the grandfather's as he was caught in a pickle between first and second.  We had the lead again, and as we stepped onto the field for the bottom of the second, the head coach asked me if I wanted to pitch.
     As a kid, my pitching career ended about the same time my comparative talent level was peaking. What made me a good pitcher in my early career was my downfall as I neared high school-- when throwing my hardest, I rarely missed the strike zone. I vividly recall one of my last times pitching: I was brought in after our team's flamethrower was tired, and it took over two innings for the team to adjust to my much slower speed. But when they figured it out, they teed off on me and I was pulled. All of this is to say I gladly took to the mound against my son's team, and was delighted that his turn to bat came after I gave up a single to the first kid and walked the second. (For all our intensity when on offense, we adults were making sure the kids had fun when they batted.)
     My son has struggled with hitting all season. This trip to the plate was no different. However, with a full count, he hit a dribbler that sent the coach, playing catcher, and I running toward the ball. He beat me there, but his throw to get the force at second whizzed into the outfield, and my son ended up on second-- fielder's choice and two RBIs.  He later made it to third, but a short fly ball with one out led to a double play. He stood at home, crestfallen, as the coach explained to my son why the run didn't count and the inning was over. I was sad for my boy, but it's all part of the game. 
     My third at-bat had the potential to be legendary. The bases were loaded, and I stood at the plate looking at the coach's son on the mound.  I called out to him before stepping in the box. 
"I've never hit a home run in my life,  so now is the perfect time to change that and hit a grand slam!"

     He laughed and went into his windup. I was swinging for the fences, 200 feet away in every direction, and whiffed badly on two of his pitches. But my final swing drilled the ball to center, and for a moment I thought I had lived up to my taunt. Instead, the ball landed after flying about 198 feet, and then bounced up and hit the fence. The grandmother who had been on first moved to second, and I laughed to myself on first base. In the movie of my life (starring Joseph-Gordon Levvit!) I'm re-writing that hit to be a home run, and nobody can stop me. 

     My last effort to regain my All-Star glory was stealing home after my final at-bat. However, right before I got up to hit, the catcher yelled, "Big hitter here!" I told him nobody had ever said that about me before, and slapped the first pitch into the outfield. Once I was sent to third on a single, I decided I would not wait for the batter to bring me home. I sprinted as soon as I saw the catcher didn't have it cleanly (since at this age stealing is allowed but only once the ball crosses the plate).  I scored without needing to slide, but had no time to slow down. So, I improvised and scaled the fence, demonstrating a Spider-Man style flair as I jumped off the fence and spun my way back down to earth. It was our 11th and final run of the game. 
     My son was the final batter for his team, and allowed to complete his at-bat event though the inning's third out was recorded as a kid tried to steal third. The coaches told our pitcher to keep going, and my son struck out four pitches later. Kids 5, Adults 11. But energy-wise, the adults were beat. My legs were sore then and remained so for four full days. And my wrist still hurts!  

     Once the kids, never once upset in defeat, collectively ate an entire watermelon along with many snack-size bags of potato chips, it was time to go home. I looked at my son and asked him if he had fun. He had. I asked why he chose to start the game as the second baseman. He said, I didn't want to play right field, because *zzzzzzzz.  He had played right field the entire season, so I was glad he was eager to play in a more active position.  I told him that second base had been my position when I was a kid.  He replied, wide-eyed, "Oh, yeah?" in part because he had probably forgotten this detail, but also because he now had a context for what that meant.  Playing second base was not longer an abstract notion, but something he had done himself.  And done well at.  Like father, like son.

     As you can imagine, I kept very detailed statistics for my son and I during the game.

Here's his stat line:
3 Plate Appearance, 1 for 2 with two RBI, 1SO, 1Walk

Here's my stat line, the clear and unabashed MVP of the game:
4-4, 3 RBI, 4 Runs Scored, 1 Dream Come True




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