Apodaca: The unwritten rules of baseball

Spring is fast upon us, which in my house means one thing: It's baseball season again.

All around Newport-Mesa, baseball fields are bustling, with the littlest Little Leaguers to brawny high school players hoping for fleeting moments of glory that make the long hours of practice worthwhile.

As they rehearse, I do my own prep work. When a new season arrives, I do a mental inventory to remind myself of the guidelines I've established for my own behavior.

I freely admit that my code of conduct might not jibe with others' ideas of good parenting. But I believe I would have adopted a similar approach no matter which sport my sons had chosen to pursue.

For what it's worth, I humbly offer my Rules for Staying Sane During Baseball Season:

1.) Keep my mouth shut.

Over the years, I've learned the hard way that it's best to stifle any impulse to go beyond generic "Go team!"–type cheers during games, and empathetic nods and "hmms" afterwards.

Anything else doesn't help and sometimes makes matters worse, whether it's pointless directives ("Get a hit!"), post-game platitudes ("You tried your hardest, and that's all that matters"), or other useless suggestions ("Visualize success!").

I've managed to minimize my role as my kids' biggest fan to maintaining a quiet, patient presence. I offer a supportive shoulder squeeze here, a hair tousle there, but I otherwise can the unnecessary commentary. In other words, I let them figure it out.

2.) Don't criticize or make excuses.

The players get plenty of critiquing from coaches and other players. By the time they get home, they know what they did wrong — or right. They might want to talk about it; they might not. Either way, I refer back to Rule No. 1: Keep it zipped.

Even parents who know baseball backwards and forwards trip up on this one. I offer one exchange from years ago between my sports-fanatic husband and oldest son as a case in point:

Dad: "You know what your first mistake was?"

Son: Silence.

Dad: "You should never walk the lead-off batter."

Son: "You think I tried to walk him? Like that was a strategy?"

Dad: "No, but that was your first mistake."

Son: "How does that help?"

Exactly.

Making excuses was my bit. It's tempting to unfairly malign umpires and coaches, but I realized long ago that my rationalizing set a lousy example, and I had no idea what I was talking about, anyway. Which brings me to…

3.) I don't know anything.

Sure, I've picked up a thing or two about baseball over the years. I can tell the difference between fastballs and curveballs, and I know what squeeze plays and pickoffs are. I've even tried my hand at the score sheets, which make Sudoku look simple.

But I've never played baseball, and my knowledge of other sports is seldom relevant. I can't put myself in my son's cleats, so I should stick to the areas where I can help.

4.) There's nothing so bad — or good — that food can't make better.

Now here's where I can make a difference. It's hard to aptly describe the ravenous desperation of a group of hungry boys, but a pack of caged wolves that's been starved for days with a hunk of red meat hanging just out of reach might come close.

I might be an ignoramus about baseball, but I do know food, so I throw myself into my role as provider of all things edible. I've prepared team meals as if they carry the import of a White House state dinner. I keep the pantry stocked with sports drinks and snacks, the freezer stuffed with pizzas. I should probably look into investing in sunflower seed futures to help pay off my grocery bill.

5.) Layer, layer, layer.

Baseball fields have their own microclimates. They can go from blistering heat to subarctic conditions when the sun begins to dip. So I come prepared.

During the season, the back of my car holds the following items: two blankets, a ski jacket, gloves, a wool cap, a sun hat, sunscreen, an umbrella and a seat cushion. My vast collection of scarves gets ample use. I sometimes resemble a giant ball of yarn with legs, but if that gets me through a game it's well worth the cost to my dignity.

6.) Appreciate every moment.

My youngest son is a sophomore in high school, thus my days as a baseball parent are numbered. I'm lucky to have a flexible schedule, so I show up at every game, even if my boy doesn't play.

Soon, though, I'll have to develop a new set of rules to keep from going crazy longing for days past. I might be seen haunting strangers' T-ball games just so I can relive the wild throws, wrong-way base running and between-the-legs base hits.

Perhaps someday I'll be fortunate enough to have grandchildren who play the game. If so, you can bet your backstop that I'll be there. It won't be hard to find me: I'll be the little old lady swaddled in blankets up in the stands, keeping my mouth shut.

PATRICE APODACA is a Newport-Mesa public school parent and former Los Angeles Times staff writer. She is also a regular contributor to Orange Coast magazine. She lives in Newport Beach.

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