This past weekend, I decided to carve out some time for what makes this country great. There’s nothing better than America’s pastime when played at a level for the pure love of the game. The best kind of amateurs was set to play: 7-year-old little boys taking their positions on a freshly raked dirt field with perfectly etched chalk marks and bright white bases. The sun was shining in the a.m. sky, the uniforms equally as bright, and the smell of hot dogs wafting their way across the metal bleachers made for the perfect way to spend this beautiful August day.
My rooting interest wore tie-dye t-shirts and gray baseball pants. Their energy could have powered a space shuttle and their level of enthusiasm, well, “off the charts” seems to capture their collective spirit. Their gloves were bigger than their torsos, and their hats big enough to serve as a hiding place for their ears. My guys, in the latest Jerry Garcia Collection, took the field and assumed the appropriate stance: hands on knees and eyes focused. Their foes prepared to hit as they sported the requisite polyurethane helmet sized for someone twice their age. Ahhh, the boys of summer! PLAY BALL, yelled the 13-old umpire.
Their purity was exhilarating. No contract struggles, no scandals, and certainly no steroids – ONLY PARENTS. The chalk lines had not yet been smeared by the pitter patter of little sets of spikes when those who had sprung these younguns from their loins began hollering directions. Oh my gosh! Only one group needed Ritalin that day and they were all above 30. I listened as the dad yelled “move in,” while the coach yelled “move back,” and the mom, with a piercing tone above the rest, yelled “did you remember your sunscreen?” Imagine a classroom with 18 teachers. These little leaguers had no chance.
While those in uniforms may have been pure in thought and deed, the parents’ motives were somewhere south of noble. The banter among those in the bleachers was funny and tragic all rolled into one. The parents divided off into small discussion groups and quickly determined which kid’s parents were not in ear shot and, as a result, this helped them to determine which second-grader could be talked about without fear of reprisal. The hot topics included who couldn’t catch, who couldn’t throw, who couldn’t bat and whose uniform was obviously not properly washed from the previous game. I laughed, I cried, I got out my Tide Stick.
“Run” and “throw it to the pitcher” were popular choruses. I was confused. All I saw them do was run. The last thing they needed was encouragement to “run.” Most of these diminutive dudes were hopped up on Lucky Charms – running was a sure thing. They ran everywhere – to the batter’s box, from the batter’s box, to the dugout, from the dugout. The right fielder on the “Grateful Dead” even ran around chasing a butterfly. He, of course, got yelled at by his mom, as his dad hung his head in disgust. I thought the kid was funny and, as best I could tell, extremely focused (on the butterfly). Nobody hits it to right field. He was the only one who knew it.
The game ended with a score heavily tilted in favor of the other guys. They call it the “mercy rule” when one team wins by at least 10 runs. That’s for the benefit of the adults because the kids don’t even know (nor care) what the score is. Kids don’t play for the score; they play for the love of the game. Parents would do well to pay attention. By the way, the parents could use their own “mercy rule.” Enough is enough. Let the kids play!