Our son got back the other night after playing softball with some friends and their parents. “Why didn’t you let me play much baseball when I was a kid?” he wanted to know.
Well, you know, we said, we had the one-sport rule as parents. None of this neverending season-upon-season sporting extravaganza at our house of football followed by basketball followed by baseball, with track and soccer crammed into the crevices. Not us. I saw some of those parents — the kind of who used to bore me to death at parties, grimly reciting their kids’ schedules of team practices, private lessons, tutoring and God knows what else.
No way. Those parents were self-sacrificing zombies, hollow-eyed and incoherent, their hands permanently melded to their carpool steering wheels. Not my husband and me. Some people might call us zombies, but no one ever accused us of being self-sacrificing.
“Besides,” I added, “we particularly hated T-ball.” Saying those dreaded words, I was slammed with memories of a season of blast-furnace heat while we watched very short people run around bases and balls get overthrown and an inevitable score of 24-23, by which point most of the parents had gotten sunstroke or at least progressed to some kind of drunken ennui. We were insanely grateful when our son and daughter both chose soccer as their only sport. Otherwise, we might have expired in an unsightly manner on those nasty little sun-soaked T-ball fields, OD’ing on all the double-digit scores and stories about who was getting rich the quickest in the Park Cities (not us).
“Well, I should have played more baseball,” our son said. “You should have seen me tonight. I’m really good at it.”
“You know where you get that talent from?” I demanded, kind of elbowing my husband out of the way. “From my side of the family. From Granddad.”
I went on to tell him about my father, who’s now in a rest home, suffering from Alzheimer’s.
Growing up, my sister and mother and I spent long summer nights watching Daddy play softball. We sat in the bleachers, cheering for whatever team he was playing for, watching him. He was a pitcher whose hands were so strong and capable that he never wore a glove. He pitched hard and he could hit, too.
That was always his identity when we were kids. By day, he worked anonymously as an accountant for an oil company. It was colorless work that he never wanted to talk about. At five o’clock on the dot, men would come pouring out of the front door, eager to get home and get away from the drudgery, fire up the TV and fall asleep on the couch. It never paid that well and he never really rose that high in the bureaucracy.
But that colorless world faded to a blank on those long summer evenings when he could star. Playing, he probably relived his early promise as an athlete, a time when anything seemed possible.
Years later, when I was in high school, some kids and parents were playing a pickup game of softball at a picnic. Someone hit a fly ball high and hard. We all watched the ball as it arced high into the air, then plummeted toward the ground. Clearly, it was uncatchable. Then, I noticed who was under it. It was my father, gloveless, as usual. Without moving at all, he caught the ball and heaved it back to the pitcher. Just as I knew he would.
(Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker)