Field of painful dreams

When I was in little league, I got a colored T-shirt with a stenciled team name on the front and a cap with a solid color in front and white mesh on the back (the kind farmers wear when they are out combining corn).

Baseball has come a long way since then. Big Brother’s team has jerseys with numbers, baseball pants, socks, and caps with real Major League logos on them. Parents pay significantly more for sports leagues now than mine ever did, so I guess there should be more stylish outfits to get dirty.

This is Big Brother’s second year in a kid-pitch league. The kids pitch to opposing batters, unless it takes more than five pitches to get the batter out, in which case the coach finishes him off. Elementary school boys are not the most accurate throwers, and there are no walks issued, so this system keeps the game from bogging down into a wild-pitch duel.

Big Brother has a strong arm, but like all the elementary school boys, he has some control issues. Most of these stem from his fear of hurting the kid up to bat. He can throw a number of good strikes during warm-ups, but when a kid steps into the batter’s box, Big Brother’s head fills with images of hardball carnage leading to predictably wild results. As he explained it himself: “I’m a good pitcher as long as there’s no batter.”

Baseball can be a cruel and ironic game.

batting practice

Getting in some batting practice from a pitcher that probably won’t bean you.

Kids need to face their fears, so he was scheduled to pitch the first two innings of their opening game. He nailed the first batter in the back. The boy lived, and after wiping a few tears, even trotted down to first base.

I wouldn’t have wished Big Brother to hit a batter, but in the long run, it may have saved future batters from pain. Big Brother realized he wasn’t likely to kill or maim another kid with a wild pitch and stopped worrying so much about it. He relaxed and recorded a couple of strikeouts in two scoreless innings on the mound.

The flip side of this fear is getting hit with a pitch while batting. In this case, fear hinders a kid with a good swing from playing up to his potential. Somehow, I don’t think getting nailed by a pitch will help him relax, so there needs to be an alternate solution for this.

It’s difficult to be a good hitter when you are leaving your bat on your shoulder until you determine whether or not to duck. He needs to learn the mechanics of hitting in the proper order: step into the pitch first, then assess whether you need to dive out of the way. That way, if you are not ground zero, you still have a chance to contact the ball with the bat.

It turns out hardball wouldn’t be nearly so complicated to learn if it weren’t for the hard and the ball.

 

 

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Everybody’s talkin’ at me

Sunday was Big Man’s 4th birthday. That meant a Saturday trip to the store in preparation for the big event. This, in theory, would give me a chance to use the new coupon binder my wife had made for us. We are not extreme couponers by any means, but if stores mail you little pieces of paper that are worth money, you might as well use them.

In my head, I had planned out everything I needed to do in order to run a successful errand. The first step was to grab the coupon book on the way out. On my way to do that, I was interrupted. “You wanna drop this extra pizza off at Fran’s house on your way?” my wife asked. Why does my wife have an extra pizza? It’s a long story, but let’s just say she’s a natural redistributor of goods from areas of surplus to areas of demand.

I took the pizza. I left the coupon book. This happens to me often on my way out the door. As a man, I can think of only one thing at a time. That thing used to be sex, mostly, but as I’ve gotten old and domesticated, it has changed into things like coupons books. Family members see me going out as the time to make requests of me, new thoughts which drive the old thought, about why I was going, completely out of my mind.

I did make it to the store, but I paid full price.

coupon organizer

Our new coupon binder: handsome and useful – especially when you remember to take it to the store.

On Sunday morning, I went to pick up the birthday cake. I fled the house before anyone could make me lose my focus on cake.  At the store, I ran into a friend who’d bought Big Man an ice cream maker for his birthday. I volunteered to pick up the half & half and ice to make the ice cream. The ice was by the door, so I’d grab it on the way out.

I got the half & half, and a few other things my wife texted me to get, and headed for the checkout.  If I hadn’t passed the cake mix aisle I would have left without our cake. Good save, Duncan Hines! I got our cake and went through the checkout, only needing to pay for the bag of ice.

Apparently I had left my Don’t-Talk-To-Me face at home, which is odd because my wife says I wear it whenever I go out. I’ve been trying it on at home lately, but nobody respects it there. The young lady bagging the groceries saw our Paw Patrol cake and went off about her little nephew. Of course, when your Don’t-Talk-To-Me face fails, you have to be polite, even when it makes you forget to present your coupons, the ones you brought all the way to the store this time, to the cashier.

“My nephew this; my nephew that.”

“Uh-huh. Uh-huh, that’s nice.”

Needless to say, I had to go back to into the store for ice.

Big Man had a happy birthday, but I’m the one who aged.

The perfect birthday gift for a boy who loves tools and belts.

What lies beneath

In matters of the heart, our boys are all boy. When it comes to demonstrating emotions toward each other, that demonstration usually takes the form of a punch or a blind-side tackle. Sure, they play and joke together, but when one inspires a deep feeling within another, that feeling is generally somewhere between annoyance and anger.

That’s what makes it so much extra soft and fuzzy when the moon turns blue and they show some genuine warmth for each other.

Last weekend was Big Brother’s league basketball tournament. This was the biggest tournament of the year, and he had been looking forward to it. The Thursday before the tournament, Big Brother got sick. We thought he’d be better in time, but when he woke Saturday morning it became clear he wouldn’t be able to play.

He and I were both disappointed. As he sat in his pajamas, coming to terms with disappointment and his physical discomforts, Buster took me by the arm and whispered into my ear. “Can you make him stay upstairs and you come downstairs with me?”

Big Brother didn’t look like he was going downstairs in the next few minutes, so I just went down with Buster. “Can you get me paper and a pencil?” Buster asked, leading me toward the drawing paper the boys use to make birthday cards for their friends’ parties.

I got him a piece of paper and a crayon, because crayons are better than pencils for Hallmark occasions. He sat at the dining room table and folded the paper into card form. Looking up at me, he said, “I need help with the words.”

I nodded. “What do you want to say?”

He told me his thoughts and I spelled the words for him. He wrote the letters as I dictated.

 

The best cards are made of crayon on paper.

All the words were his. Only the spelling was mine, except for the word “BAeTter” where he kind of got ahead of me. It didn’t matter. The meaning was clear.

A mouthful for a boy to say to his brother.

Big Brother came downstairs. Buster made me stand guard so Big Brother wouldn’t come into the dining room. When Buster was finally done with the illustrations, he handed the card to Big Brother with the understated, brotherly tenderness that comes with the single word: “Here.” “Here” is the most caring word in a boy’s lexicon when it accompanies a hand bearing a heartfelt gift.

Big Brother read the card. He didn’t know how to react. At last, the brotherly instinct took over. His face brightened just a bit. “That’s really nice,” he told Buster. He put the card down on the coffee table and life went back to normal.

Everything that needed to be done or said was done and said. The exchange lasted a brief instant, and that was exactly the right length for it. If it had gone longer, it would have turned fake.

This was real, and it had to be allowed to sink down underneath, where brothers keep it.

 

Driving lessons from a preschool graduate

With the warm weather, we’ve pulled out the Power Wheels convertible. We bought it second-hand for Big Brother’s birthday, five years ago. He’s wanted to bring it outside since March. It’s cute how much he loves that car. Too bad it’s sad how he won’t accept the reality that he’s too big for it now. His knees stick up over the windshield when he drives it and I think I hear the electric motor gasping for breath.

Once Big Brother gets over his emotional attachment to the car, he’ll realize his bike gives him much more freedom than any rechargeable 12v battery can. It’s just that it may take him another five years to get over his emotional attachment.

highway

Blast from the Past: Big Brother taking Buster for a spin, circa 2014.

The car needed new battery. New batteries cost more than we paid for the car itself. I’m not sure I would have coughed up the cash to see Big Brother squeeze himself into the driver’s seat one more time. I was thinking more of his little brothers.

While Big Brother was finishing up his last weeks of 3rd grade, Buster and Big Man got in some valuable driving time. Buster has an aptitude for driving the car. He doesn’t over-steer and he understands the principles of a three-point (or nine-point) turn. His little brother isn’t quite there yet, but this does nothing to stop Big Man from demanding his turn behind the wheel.

He gets his turn, because practice makes perfect – perfect, in this case, meaning less likely to run over your father’s foot. Buster slides into the passenger seat and assumes the role of driving instructor.

It’s a comedy on wheels.

Buster’s mentoring is laced with annoyed impatience. He doesn’t understand why Big Man can’t follow his simple instructions, never appreciating that Big Man is not listening to instructions, simple or otherwise. Big Man is enjoying the freedom of the sidewalk, then the lawn, then the sidewalk, then the lawn again, then the sidewalk, then Daddy’s foot, then the lawn, and eventually the sidewalk again. It’s peddle to the metal and damn that buzzing in his ear.

If Buster knew any swear words his little brother would be buried under them. I must try to remember to forget all my best swear words before the boys get behind the wheel of a real car in 8-13 years.

In the end, cooler heads prevail, which means I rescue Buster from apoplexy by informing Big Man his turn is over. With the application of various threats and incentives, Big Man accepts the change and they switch seats. Buster executes a multi-point turn and they embark upon a straight-line cruise down the sidewalk, letting the highway breeze soothe frayed nerves.

The Corvette is passed to a new generation: Buster and Big Man hitting the road in 2017.

They are friends again, for as long as Big Man refrains from any terrible notions of it getting to be his turn to drive again.

I have nearly eight years before the real fun with cars begins. I should spend some of that time practicing keeping my feet out of the way of tires.