I was telling Thomas, the little guy’s teammate, that I don’t really understand a lot about life, despite being 390 years old and sometimes pretending to have all the answers.
Thomas had initiated the discussion by griping about the lack of bullpen space to throw in. As a coach, I said I didn’t understand it either. But then, I added, I didn’t understand a lot of things. Such as, why do we eat jelly beans at Easter? Or, what do women do with the billions of Q-tips they buy?
I also lamented changes in the ’65 Mustang, the most-perfect car ever.
“Why’d they change it?” I asked Thomas. “Does In-N-Out change its cheeseburger every year? So why are car companies so quick to ditch a classic design? They would’ve sold 50 billion by now.”
I paused, tossed a couple of baseballs his way, then added: “But then making money has never been very important to American corporations.”
Thomas and I shared a brief existential moment, before getting on with our pre-game warm-up.
Baseball is upon us, can you tell? Each spring it humbles me. Worse than romance, even more mind-blowing than marriage, baseball is perhaps the toughest challenge we will ever face.
As a coach, I try to instill in the young players an indefatigable spirit and a joie de vivre for the game. Lots of luck.
Before the first pitch, we huddle up. In a low growl, I tell the team, by way of inspiration: “Tonight, we will drink from the skulls of our enemies.”
Hear! Hear! They like that. It seems to rally them in ways that “go get ’em!” never could. They are 12 to 14 years old. The urge to conquer quivers their hearts. Like baby Dobermans, players this age should never suffer self-doubt.
You see, baseball is a haunted pursuit. It preys on human frailty. It feeds on the flop sweat on a first baseman’s brow. Hesitate even one bit, and it will turn your soul into a wad of kite string.
The little guy plans to play baseball on a professional level. The odds seem distant. I try to explain to him that he probably has a better chance of winning the Nobel Prize, or running off with Scarlett Johansson.
“That Scarlett Johansson?” he asks.
“How many can there be?” I say.
One pitch at a time, we’re building a boy. He has entered puberty now, which has not made life’s curveballs any easier. He still sleeps in his batting stance, dreaming of the majors. But yesterday he got physically trapped between his desk and his chair… Helllllllp!!!
He now has a tendency to retreat to his room. He seems married to his mobile phone, despite its cracked screen.
His mother has vowed not to replace it till his grades improve. Who’d a thunk that in America we’d reach a point where you’d bribe boys – not with baseball gloves, not with electric guitars – but with new phones?
(Pause here while a nation sighs.)
Yet, I laugh a little at how parents freak out over their teenagers, as if they’d never been one themselves. Teenagers are chemically programmed to start breaking away, and they achieve this through their haircuts, music, body language -- anything to tee off Mom and Dad. Usually, it works very well.
Add these insipid little devices and video games to their arsenal of ick. It seems unfair. As with all children, they seem to have a stylistic edge and the strength to drive us slowly out of our minds.
He is forthright about his own condition -- his hair growth, his interest in girls. But I like that he shares. I like that he still speaks to us about almost everything.
Point is, I still love him, which is important when you’re a parent. Occasionally, I even like him. Let me count the ways. OK, I can’t think of anything specific right this moment. Try me later.
Wait, here’s one:
He often approaches school with the fervor of someone reporting for jury duty. But he wanted his sick mother at his school’s open house, even though she was still too weak to go up the many stairs the classroom visits would require.
His mother, who has attended 47 school open houses (and truly wouldn’t have minded missing this one) explained that she’d probably have to skip the big night.
On his own, her son went to his counselor, and then the custodian, and obtained a spare key to the school service elevator.
“Hey Mom, now you can come!” he said, dangling the key like jewelry.
At that point, what choice did she have?