Ahhhh--Summer, Baseball, Family

Not all teen-age boys are out on the streets defiling garage doors, robbing markets and shooting one another. Some of them are expending their energies on the great American pastime of baseball.

My wife and I drove out to Santa Monica High School the other day to watch our grandson Casey in a game between Samohi and the Brentwood Eagles Baseball Club. It was a summer school game played mostly for practice and coaching, no league standings involved.

It was a workday and few spectators were in the bleachers. Our older son, Curt, and his wife, Gail, were among them, Casey being their son. Also Casey's younger brother, Trevor, was with us. Peter O'Malley, owner of the Dodgers, was there in a business suit. His son, Brian, was playing right field, right next to Casey, at center field.

Ocean breezes blew across the grass field, making the day surprisingly cool. A row of slender eucalyptus lined the outfield, and beyond it stood a large hotel. The Santa Monica skyline rose in the distance.

Casey came up to bat just after we arrived. He is a strong kid; works out with barbells. But the Santa Monica pitcher was too big and too good. He blew him away with three quick strikes.

As the game progressed Casey redeemed himself with catches of deep hit balls and fine throws to the infield. Then he struck out again. The game went only seven innings, Santa Monica winning 3-1.

After the game, the teams shook hands in a ritual that has been in dispute in some high schools, but which to me seemed gentlemanly and mature, and rather beautiful to watch.

There was one exciting play when a Santa Monica batter hit a fly deep to left center. Brian tried to scoop it off the ground and flubbed it. Casey picked it up and threw to second, probably cutting off a run. I know what happened because O'Malley told me. He has a good eye for baseball.

Probably not one member of those teams will make it in the major leagues, but who knows? Maybe Casey will be the next Mike Piazza, if he learns to hit.

Meanwhile they were all good-looking boys in their uniforms and batting helmets, and they were there to play, not to plunder. The only gangs they belonged to were their teams.

Our plan was to have a family dinner at Marie Callender's on Westdale Avenue, where my granddaughter, Alison, recently began work as a waitress. She is trying to earn money for college.

Casey couldn't go. He said he had to do homework. Can you believe it?

Our granddaughter had the maitre d' seat us at a table where she could wait on us. I was eager to see how she handled a rather gauche crowd like us--her mother and father, her grandparents and 11-year-old Trevor, who is rather uncivilized.

She was fine. Patient, quick, pleasant and pretty. The first thing I did was ask for a vodka tonic. "We don't serve alcohol," she informed me sweetly.

But I was in a good mood. After the game, we had stopped by Curt and Gail's house in Mar Vista and found they didn't have any vodka, which meant I would have to go without my usual evening fix. It has become an inflexible family ritual that my wife fixes me a vodka tonic--one--each evening before dinner, and has one herself. This is usually followed by dinner and a sex-and-violence movie. Such is culture in today's world.

When we found the cupboard bare, my wife volunteered to drive to the market and pick up a bottle of vodka, a gesture that I took as a recognition of my patience and civility. So I had my fix after all.

Earlier in the week, Gail and our other grandson, Chris, son of Doug and Jackie, came over to our house to take me swimming. I had not been in our beautiful pool once this summer, because of my difficulty in managing the steps.

Being a physical therapist, Gail knew how to get me into the water using a walker. It was a tedious business, but it worked. I had a good swim, but Gail's presence probably kept me from drowning.

Chris was recently discharged after two years in the Army, mostly in the jungles of Panama. He has developed a manly physique, which he improves by workouts at a Pasadena gym. Thus I, the paterfamilias, am surrounded and supported by exemplary grandchildren. The word family never seems to be used in a positive sense anymore, but I would say we are a functional one.

Of course, I never could hit.

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