There are "truck boys," those toddlers who must watch Bob the Builder and Thomas the Tank Engine and for whom a trip to the local construction site is a joy unparalleled. Then there are "ball boys," drawn to all manner of ballgames; soccer, baseball, football, even golf from before they can walk. My G-Man was neither of these. He spent most of his preschool years in a mysterious place between his ears, and only let the rest of the world in for moments at a time when he'd act out his fantasies in costume dramas and backyard sword fights. Try as I might, I could never interest him in team sports. Skateboarding, judo, fencing, swimming, even tennis captured his imagination, but interacting with a bunch of loud boys on a team offered nothing to the G-Man. Until this year.
He came home in December and asked to sign-up for intermural basketball. I wasn't sure where the sudden interest had come from, but I asked no questions and got him into the program. He was awkward, unfamiliar with the concepts of offense and defense, and was caught off guard by the ball more than he caught it, but he had fun. He started wearing a headband and wristbands to school, he asked for workout clothes to match his uniform. He's an actor, my son. He might not be the star baller, but he's got the costume and that's enough to get him into character.
After basketball, he asked about baseball. Now, I love baseball. I've wanted this kid in Little League since he was old enough to hold a bat. So, I'm all over this. But I know, G-Man is 9, most kids start Little League with Tee-Ball when they're 5 or 6. They've got 4 or 5 years head start on him and he's got no skills at all and the most barebones understanding of the game. At 9 years old, they start splitting the kids into the minors and majors, it starts to get really competitive. I was really nervous for the kid.
We totally lucked out and got a coach who would work with him without making him feel remedial. After the second practice, G got in the car and said, "I'm the worst kid on the team."
"Oh, don't say that," I said, "Everybody has a bad day."
"No, really," G insisted, "I'm awful, but I'm having fun!" And he was serious. He knew he had a lot to learn, he knew he wasn't the star, but he was having fun with it. Really, what more can you hope for your kid to learn about sports?
Last night was the last scrimmage before opening day. Our team was playing the dreaded Kobra Kai team (ok, not their real name) The other parents had warned me about the Kobra Koaches. These two, grown men are super competitve, obsessed with winning, living vicariously through a team of 9 and 10 year old boys. One Koach weighs-in at over 400 pounds, some overweight people have multiple chins, this guy was sporting multiple knees! The other Koach is so obese he coaches from the seat of his Rascal scooter. They are the winning-est coaches in the league, but the kids dread being drafted to their team because they suck all the fun out of baseball.
Our team is fairly well-rounded, we've got some stars, a lot of kids in the middle, and then there's the G-Man, vaguely covering second base, dreaming about Silver Surfer and drawing in the dirt with his cleats. When a ball was hit in his general direction the center-fielder knew to back him up, the shortstop covered second, and G stopped sketching long enough to see them make them make the doubleplay. But when it was our turn at bat, my son got up there and he wacked that ball. It didn't go far, but it went in the right direction and the third baseman fumbled the throw to first. G rounded first base and without thinking to check if he could, ran to second. How he managed to get there safe, I'll never know, but there he was, safe on second, with a look that can only be described as unadulterated joy.
The next kid walked, there was another hit, and the G-Man scored a run. I don't think he even realized it at first. He crossed homeplate and just hung out there for a minute or two until his coach called him back to the bench where there were high-fives all around.
The Kobras kicked our butts. Their coaches, men who haven't run since the Carter Administration, had advised their team to steal bases everytime our kids overthrew the ball or fumbled a catch. I know that technically it's legal, but it was a scrimmage, ferchrissakes! Our kids earned all of their runs the old-fashioned way and left the practice primed and ready for opening day. Isn't that what being a "ball boy" is all about?