Little League Moments

The start to summer break and Little League baseball is a great reminder of inertia. The contrast of sprinting through May at a breakneck pace of planning for the future while endless finish lines suddenly comes to a screeching halt during Monday night  (and most other weekdays that end with Y) Little League Baseball. IYKYK.

Often called America’s National Pastime, baseball has become this iconic symbol of summer, right up there with the all you can eat hot dog contest and barbecues. I’ll be frank. It is also, at this age, the slowest sport of all-time. In northern Wisconsin, dressing for games takes a PhD in meteorology. How does one exactly dress for a game that’ll expand from the residual, blasting heat of the summer sun into nightfall (and the boundless mosquitoes that inevitably follow), with enough padding to save your overly stimulated tailbone from unforgiving bleachers? Add-in potential weather front changes as the games span hours and are almost always played in large, open spaces that welcome everything from desert-like sandstorms to bone-chilling windstorms.

Sure, I’ve found solutions. I now understand why so many parents line the fence line in comfy padded camping chairs and pack fuzzy blankets, sunglasses, caps, parkas, and the occasional Yeti mug with a preferred beverage of their choice. Hot tea perhaps? Or, a chilled margarita. No judgement here. 

At one of the many games I’ve been watching grass grow at, I couldn’t help but ponder why we do this. Why do millions of Americans gather on countless evenings throughout the summer to watch little boys and girls attempt to hit a ball with a stick, often to swing and miss. Or, worse yet, get reamed with a ball by an overzealous pitcher or nailed in the face by a ball that takes a hard jump in the dirt near shortstop. 

My dad’s missing front teeth were a daily reminder of the dangers of even the most mundane of sports. Watching my son at shortstop lose interest in the game he’s playing, and at times be playing in the dirt of even facing the wrong direction, I cringe knowing the potential cost of his boredom.

But of course, the Universe loves serving me up lessons in these moments. A kid catches a ball and the smile on his face says it all. My kid gets a solid single and eventually makes his way around the bases with his teammates slapping his hand in the dug-out. I’m taken back decades to moments in my front yard where after my dad pulling an 8 or 12 hour shift would grab his battered glove and play catch with me. Back and forth the ball would go – pop flys, grounders, practice pitches and catching. An opportunity to do something with dad. To have his undivided attention. I still remember winning the Little League Championship and learning the consequences of being mouthy when I was perhaps removed from a game for my smack talk.

I’ve noticed at games – and perhaps it is the spotty rural Wisconsin cell phone coverage – the cell phones are rarely out unless they are being used as a camera. Conversations between moms, dads, grandparents and neighbors who are otherwise strangers flows freely. Some folks even show up just for the love of the sport. The cheering is simultaneous for both teams – and more than once I’ve had to ask who is winning – the last time my kid’s team was up 10 to 4. As an inherently competitive, borderline crazy mom, I was almost embarrassed by my lack of attention to detail until I saw several other parents nodding in surprise as well. 

I leave these games calmer. A bit more centered. Caught up with the on-goings in my community. Perhaps it is the Vitamin D my body is soaking in after an endless winter. The social connections. The forced moments of stillness with nothing to do but wait for something to happen. To watch dozens of kids come together in opposition, only to shake hands at the end and go on with their summer as if nothing ever happened.

My son recently came home with a book he was supposed to fill out all about him. He didn’t get much further than the first few pages. The page that jumped out most was the line: when I grow up, I will die.

The over analyzer in me immediately questioned him about this. Is something wrong? He reminded me of something I once said, that in fact, we will all die. It is the one thing he’s certain of. So I asked, 

“But what do you aspire to be?  

“That wasn’t the question, mom,” he so candidly pointed out.

“Maybe. But why didn’t you focus on that instead?”

“Because there are only two things I want to be when I grow-up.”

“What’s that?”

“In the MLB or the MLW,” he says matter of factly. “You should know that.”

I’m confused. MLW I think. 

“As-in major league whiffleball mom. Duh.”

Turns out my son is as big of a dreamer as me. That while he stands in the outfield and plays in the dirt, he’s aspiring for something bigger. It doesn’t matter that his genes are not made up of MLB material, any more than he’ll be the next Michael Jordan like he proclaims (only better in his eyes). It doesn’t matter that he’s one of the youngest kids on the team. And, that in a few months he’ll likely be dreaming of the NBA. In this moment, he’s finding magic in the mundane of America’s Favorite Pasttime.

Summer break is meant for dreaming. For figuring out what’s next. For savoring slow rides on the pontoon, smutty summer books, and watching your son dream big and occasionally score. About being present. 

To Little League and all of the volunteers that make it happen. Thank you.

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