People sometimes apologize to me for not being able to make one of my son’s baseball games. I always say “don’t worry about it,” and I mean it. If I were honest, I would say, “Thank you… we really don’t want you to come!”
It’s not that I don’t love my friends and family members. Of course I do. It’s just that the last thing my husband and I want to do is make small talk while our son is on the mound. Can you imagine chatting away amiably while you’re being waterboarded? I’m not saying that watching Alex pitch is akin to torture. When you’re being tortured, at least you know there’s something you can say to make the torture end. When our son is pitching, only a perfect inning will end the torment. And that’s completely out of our control.
In my book, KEEPING SCORE, my main character, Shannon, talks about how she feels watching her son at the plate:
Then it was Sam’s turn. My stomach dropped to my feet. I had an intense desire to go to the bathroom. My hands were trembling. I hoped Sam felt better than I did.
This is a pretty good description of how I feel when Alex is pitching. It’s a good description of how I felt when he was in Sam’s position – that is, a 9-year-old playing “rec” baseball. (“rec,” short for “recreation,” is the lowest level there is.)
The sad part is, there is no difference as far as nerves are concerned between watching 10-year-old Alex pitch for his rec team – The BCC O’Briens Lions – and watching 20-year-old Alex pitch for the summer league championship in the Trop. The nausea. The racing heart. The intense desire to be anywhere else but here.
And of course the only thing worse than watching your son pitch is watching your son not pitch.
Baseball is a game where you can’t hide. Football has a huddle; soccer is expected to end in a 0-0 tie, and basketball is the definition of a team sport. But in baseball, when you’re throwing, catching or hitting the ball, it’s just you and the ball. It’s an individual sport masquerading as a team sport. If you mess up, everyone knows right away that it was you.
I give my son a lot of credit for having the strength of character to thrive under this stress. To make it even harder, a few years ago he refashioned himself from a starter to a closer. The good part about being a starter is that if you start off shaky, there are still several innings left for another pitcher to come in and try to make up for your mistakes. There’s no backstop when you’re the closer. You’re the guy they bring in when there are no outs, bases loaded and your team is only up by one run. If you blow it, it’s too late to salvage the game. If you can’t deliver, there’s no one warming up in the pen to clean up your mess. It’s you or nobody.
Obviously, Alex was not thinking about his parents when he made that decision.
When I wrote KEEPING SCORE, Alex was in high school and I was sufficiently removed from all the drama around travel baseball that I could laugh about it. But there’s the internal drama that never goes away. Maybe when Alex hangs up his cleats for good – something that hopefully won’t happen for another decade or so – I’ll write another book about baseball. In the meantime, if Alex is playing in a town near you, and you want to come to the game… do Tom and me a favor: Don’t tell us you’re there. If he does well, run into us in the parking lot afterward. If he doesn’t, pretend you were never there to begin with.
Oh, and here’s the last out from the championship game. It did come down to a save situation for Alex’s team in the bottom of the 9th. This is what happened:
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