Trotting on Clouds
My son threw the final strike of the season, a swing and a miss. His teammates swarmed together, their high-pitched shouts harmonizing a chorus of joy. In a 10 year-old boy’s world, it simply doesn’t get any better than your baseball team winning the championship.
From the dugout, I pumped my fist. This was my first time coaching anything. I’m not exactly the coaching-type—if there is, indeed, a “coaching-type.” But I offered to help an energetic grandmother of one of our players, a veteran coach, who volunteered to manage the team with her daughter. For me, my duties included throwing occasional batting practice to the boys, hitting them grounders and fungos, and offering infrequent quips of advice.
At that moment, however, as I watched our players celebrate, it also occurred to me that in a 40 year-old baseball enthusiast/father’s world, it simply doesn’t get any better than your son’s baseball team winning the championship.
Baseball occupied a good deal of my boyhood—be it playing or watching or collecting baseball cards. My passion for the Red Sox, the assiduous attention I still pay toward the team, was passed down to me from my father, which was passed down to him from his dad. When I think about my childhood, growing up an average kid in an average neighborhood in Rhode Island, I think about baseball.
In fact, one of my most vivid memories from childhood was hitting my first homerun, a grand slam, in little league. I was 12 years old, and when I close my eyes—almost thirty years later—I can still feel the unfettered joy and pride bursting in my chest; I still remember rounding the bases, like I was trotting on clouds, as my teammates waited for me at home plate.
Baseball was my world until I hit adolescence and my interests shifted toward other things, such as girls, weed and the electric guitar. But my waning interest wasn’t solely attributed to chasing a different kind of curve. I also had two baseball coaches at the Babe Ruth-level who siphoned the joy out of the game for me.
These two men decimated my confidence, and as a result, I stopped enjoying the game. From these men, I witnessed a sordid side to coaching. Instead of nurturing a love of the game in their players, encouraging them to have fun, they played to win at all costs. I’ve witnessed this same thing in some of the coaches in my son’s league, including a bombastic ass who coached the team we beat to win the championship the other night.
Crushing a young boy’s love of baseball in the name of cutthroat competition, in my opinion, borders on a criminal offense.
So I became disenfranchised with baseball in my adolescence. I stopped playing and haphazardly followed the Red Sox box scores. Baseball no longer held a spot in my life, a hole that it would take years to fill again.
Then, in my senior year of college, I joined my fraternity’s intramural softball team. While we were more about pounding beers and launching long balls—not exactly practicing squeeze plays—being out on the field, being a part of the game, awoke some of those dormant youthful passions. My life, at the time, would’ve been a Wordsworth poem if Tintern Abbey had kegs.
In adulthood, post-college (a.k.a. “the real world”), I became a student of the game. Again, as I did as a boy, I followed the Red Sox fervently and started writing a baseball blog, combining my two passions of writing and baseball. The blog didn’t have many followers, but I wrote it because it was fun. That blog has continued and now appears in print in Dirty Water News. And I still have fun writing it. First and foremost—as we would always remind my son and teammates—baseball should be fun. The game, while often frustrating for players and coaches and fans alike, is designed to bring us joy.
Which brings us back to championship game the other night.
Watching those boys celebrate, their smiles, their pure joy brought back for me my own youthful exuberance, and glancing into the bleachers, seeing the joy on my wife’s face and the faces of the other parents, I knew they felt it, too.
Those ten boys, our improbable champions, reminded me again of what it was like to trot on clouds, and for that, I am deeply indebted to these players.