Monday, February 22, 2010

Proud Dad Moment

My son, Max, has never before participated in competitive sports. He's great on the schoolyard, loves to mix it up in the backyard against Daddy and Eli (and any other visitors who wish to take him on), but he never wanted to play soccer, baseball, or basketball on a team with other kids. Last fall, his brother Eli (who will be five in three weeks) played in his first soccer league, and Eli was one of the two stars on the team. Max went to every game and eagerly cheered on his little brother, and wanted to work out with and even play on the team. However, when it came time for baseball signups last December, Max was dead set against it.

Daddy, however, had a different agenda. I was going to sign him up and have him show up and give it his best. I always knew that Max, who was really quite athletic despite his being small and very slender, was reluctant to anything unless he was immediately excellent at it. I figured that once he got out on the field and saw that he was just as good as the rest of the kids, he'd find his comfort zone and play with enthusiasm.

Tryouts were a couple of weeks ago (not really tryouts, per se, but more of a positioning -- every kid would be put on a team, but they wanted to balance the teams equitably). He pretty much fought me all the way there, although I noticed his arguments were less adamant than about, say, going to Sunday school. We got to the field on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. In his group were eight other boys of similar age. Each boy was screened to see how well they could catch a fly ball, field a grounder and throw it to first base, and hit a coach's pitch. By a wonderful stroke of luck, Max was the last to go; he got to see every other kid go first. A couple of them were able to catch one of the three fly balls tossed them, a couple were pretty good about fielding the ground balls, but only one of them was able to hit a ball into fair territory. Max did not catch one fly ball, but he got his mitt on every one. He successfully fielded every ground ball. And he was the only other kid able to put a ball into play.

Since that day, he has been thrilled to play baseball. We'd go out in the backyard and I'd toss him fly balls. He's a basket-catch specialist, just like Willie Mays, but he's also working on getting the glove up. His throwing arm is getting better as well. Two weekends ago, we met the coach, a laid-back Hawaiian guy named Matty, who has a son on Max's team, the Pirates. He patiently gave Max (and Eli) time to catch, throw, field, and hit. Max got a little frustrated, particularly when Eli hit every single pitch and Max missed about 10 in a row, but he stuck with it and took direction from the coach. We changed bats and he found his arms better able to swing and make contact. Every day, his excitement has grown, and now he looks forward to being on his team.

Over this past weekend, I took him shopping for his black pants, black undershirt, helmet, belt, socks, and cleats. His first team practice was yesterday afternoon, just 45 minutes after completing Sunday school (more on this later). With all the parents sitting in the bleachers above the field, the seven boys and two girls on the team were put through calisthenics and stretching, then played catch in pairs. I could see that Max's confidence was building as the practice went on. He took great direction and played with excitement. He'll need some help charging a ground ball and planting himself for a throw, but that'll come as he practices more. He also got ample time to swing the bat and run the bases.

The whole time, Max wore a serious face, paying attention to direction from the coaches and committing to the tasks at hand. The only time I saw any lightheartedness was when he stood in the batter's box and spun his bat as he waited for the next pitch, just like his hero, Manny Ramirez, which gave both Lisa and me a chuckle.

At the end of the practice, Max got and put on his cap and jersey (#4), and rode all the way home on his bike to show his Mom, uncle Dan, and other guests his new uniform.

I'm so jazzed that Max has come out of his shell and decided to play on this team. He already has one friend on the team (who also played in both of his RockSTAR bands for the past two years), and I'm sure he'll make a couple more. This is real Little League, the kind that culminates in the World Series in Williamsport, PA. It's a pretty big commitment for a seven-year-old, with two games a week and one practice a week. And this is just the "minor" league. If he decides to continue and play in the "majors," there will be another practice. On top of this he still has Sunday school, RockSTAR, a chess club, and now an intramural drumline corp, for which he was personally invited. And he still has enough homework to keep him pretty busy.

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