A field of daydreams
Now that my 8-year-old son is playing organized baseball, I have to keep reminding myself – it’s only a game.The other evening we played in Glenwood. It was one of those summer nights you wish could last forever. It’s warm, the sunset is brilliant, and the green of the outfield grass contrasts perfectly with the red-rock cliffs across the river and my son’s face, which is smeared with Buffalo Valley barbecue sauce from an early dinner.We walk lazily through the parking lot and see that six players are waiting for us. One boy’s crisp uniform is already soaked in orange Gatorade, dust solidly clinging to it. He rounds out the backdrop perfectly.”Max!” the boys holler in exuberant unison, as if Babe Ruth himself had just appeared from the cornstalks bordering the Field of Dreams. “Now we just need the twins.” “Are the twins here?” the head coach asks me, oblivious to the announcement that’s just been so raucously made. At this level, he has learned to block out crowd noise.The team nervously waits to see if there will be enough players for a game tonight, spending these tense moments climbing on the backstop, clanging rocks off the dugout’s tin roof, and staging a contest to see who has the biggest belly. At last the twins show up and there is a wild celebration complete with a dog pile on the infield dirt. The rest of the uniforms are now soiled. We look like we’re playing the second game of a twin bill and everybody played catcher in the first. Coach struggles with putting together a batting order, another dad and I take the kids to the outfield for some batting practice.The kids swing wildly at any and all pitches that are thrown. A ball is popped straight up and it lands over the fence 3 feet behind the batter. It draws a cacophony of “oohs” and “ahhs” from the eight ballplayers standing as one, shagging balls in far-too-deep center field. It’s the first ball hit out of the park this season.We’re first up to bat and score six runs without making an out. According to the rules, that’s enough and we switch up with the other team. Suddenly, it’s like the men’s room at Wrigley during the seventh inning stretch on dollar beer night. Everyone is darting around; total chaos reigns. Coach starts scratching his head, stares down at the lineup he has painfully drafted, and assumes a demeanor that says, “I’m too old for this.” Then, like magic, everybody is at a position on the field.Next inning the same thing happens except everybody ends up at a different position. Coach shakes his head in wonder and puts the lineup card away for the night.Late in the game, our team is up 18 to zero. One of our kids rips a 70-foot line drive almost to the outfield grass. The tiny center fielder struggles to catch up with the ball and then throws it somewhere in the vicinity of left field. Our hitter could have run to Rifle and back; an easy home run. I tell him to hold up at first base and begin sweating this complicated situation. It would be hard to explain to most of the adults watching, much less a child. I exhale deeply. “Do you know why I told you to stop here?” I begin.”So the other team doesn’t feel sad?” he asks innocently.I smile and flick the bill of his cap. Play ball!As the last inning begins, I take my spot coaching first base. A small voice beckons from the dugout. “Coach! I need you.””Hold on,” I tell the umpire and the game is halted for an 8-year-old’s problem that I can’t guess at. I trot over to the dugout. “What’s up, buddy?””We’re going to McDonald’s after the game for ice cream. Pass it on.”Score that a double! The last out is finally recorded and our margin of victory is just north of the number on Barry Bond’s jersey. We wave the kids off the field.”What are we doing?” they ask.”The game’s over,” I say.”Did we win?”I tell you, it’s enough to make you want to hug an umpire! Afterward we all meet at McDonald’s’. The moms are discussing plans for summer trips and mountain bike rides while inspecting ripped pants, bloody knees and licorice stains. Aunts and uncles and grandparents are meeting one another. The players are talking about skiing on Mt. Everest someday and cones are dropping on the ground like Monday morning in Snowmass Canyon.I sit quietly amidst the celebration, for it really is a celebration, taking it all in. After all of these years, I still remember my first day of T-ball. I remember bouncing a tennis ball off the chimney and catching it up against the backyard fence to save the World Series for the Reds, over and over again. I remember hanging out after practice, eating snow cones and chasing foul balls. I remember the smell of a new glove, the dazzling whiteness of a new ball, and the pride in trying on this year’s cap. I remember Mom teaching me to hit when I was 6, tossing the ball with Dad just before heading off to college, and playing a whole lot of sandlot in between. I recall my youth as a beautiful daydream.I look around and see that many of the other dads are somewhere else, too, imagining one more swing with the bases loaded. I have to remind myself again – it’s only a game. Roger Marolt knows that baseball is more complicated than many people think. Give him the score at email@example.com.
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