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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Local boy avoids 257 bone fractures in one day

My wife has discovered local swap meet web sites. This can be useful, like when she scored us a free elliptical machine, or not as useful: “Do you need 160 square feet of patio pavers? It’s only 50 bucks for the whole pile.” I admit, that would be a good deal if we had a patio, or even a potential patio area, but as it stands, we’re holding out for further price reductions.

On the useful side, we bought a bunk bed frame for the kids. When we went to look at it, the nice lady selling it gave Big Brother a pair of roller blades her children had outgrown.  Recalling the length of time, and the voluminous gnashing of teeth, it took for this kid to learn to ride a bike, I was unsure of the usefulness of the roller blades. And how much would these free blades cost us in pad purchases?

Chalk up another useful application of the Internet. Within two days, my wife had located a complete, never-been-used set of pads for $10. The only piece left to be put into place was the boy’s willingness to fall repeatedly in order to learn a skill requiring real effort.

The first time he put the roller blades on his feet, he practically had to be carried out to the driveway. Up and down the sidewalk, he rolled a little, clung to me a lot, and fell down most of all. The clinging wasn’t helping him master his balance, so I cast him off. He started making two or three strides in between falls.

Stride goeth before a fall.

His mother, proud of the bargain she’d found on the pads, and wanting to instill in him the necessity of wearing them, but mostly proud of the bargain, commented after each fall. “If not for those pads, your elbow would be completely shattered right now.”

I thought these comments might intimidate him, but he seemed to like thinking of his joints as shatterproof. It encouraged him to try again. He put together a few more strides, then tumbled.

“Your knee would be in shreds right now, except for those pads.”

The indestructible boy grinned and climbed to his feet. He took four strides before the next fall.

“Your wrist would be toast right now. Completely mangled. Thank goodness for those awesome pads, right?” He was wearing his old bike helmet, so she didn’t bother to crack his skull.

He went at it until dark. The next day he made it to the end of the block on one tumble. It’s been nothing like the slow agony learning to ride a bike was.

It just goes to show that kids can surprise you with their drive to accomplish difficult things. It also shows how Dad can always learn from Mom. I clearly didn’t talk enough about broken bones during bicycle training. Maybe if I encase him in bubble wrap and throw books at him it will make him a more avid reader.

Skate away. That’s all.

We got game – family style

Big Brother just finished his second season of playing organized basketball. He seems to have found a sport he loves. He’s pretty good at it, much better than at soccer. This is not surprising since he seems to have good hand-eye coordination but is not a natural athlete. Soccer limited the use of his best asset; at least he was allowed to use his eyes.

We have a hoop in our driveway and he often wants me to play with him. Sometimes I do, but sometimes, like in February, it’s too cold for old folks to be shooting hoops outside. And sometimes there’s a good basketball game on TV, where we old men play most of our sports. These days, my best athletic moves involve transforming from the upright to the reclining position.

Meanwhile, the boy has received, as gifts, at least three small, indoor hoops that hook onto the top of doors. Mommy shudders every time he gets one, because he always wants to hang them from the door of his bedroom. This ignites the age-old conflict between moms and playing ball in the house. For my part, I see Mommy’s point, but I also remember how fun playing ball in the house could be, so I have mixed emotions.

As a compromise, Big Brother was allowed to hang a hoop over a door at the bottom of the basement steps. When he has a friend over, they can often be found playing basketball in the basement. This is doubly good, because not only does it keep the big kids from in front of any game I might be watching on TV, it encourages the little boys to go downstairs and play in the toy room there.

I’ve grown accustomed to hearing talk of slam dunks from the bottom of the stairs, but last weekend I heard something new. After the friends had gone, there was still the noise of kids playing basketball in the basement. Big Brother was sharing the sport he loves with his little brothers. “Is this a three pointer?” I heard Buster ask. Big Brother explained the rules; he was actually teaching them.

I love this on lots of levels: first, I love that no one was fighting – that’s always a plus in our Itchy & Scratchy household. I love that the little boys are developing an interest in basketball. I love that admiration for their big brother is the cause of this. I love that Big Brother wants to share one of his favorite things with them.

I called the boys to come upstairs for dessert. Big Brother and Buster came up, but Big Man kept practicing. He needs to stand on the second stair to get the ball near the hoop. I asked him what he wanted for dessert. “Nothing,” he replied, “I’m paying bassetbaw.”

There he stayed, practicing his second-stair shot. I’ll remember this day when he’s swishing three-pointers. I hope Big Brother does too, so we can be proud together.

 

"Paying bassetbaw."

“Paying bassetbaw.”

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With a two-step handicap.

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Is better than cookies.

 

 

Just put the ball through the hoop; it’s that simple

The most recent video gaming system we have is a PlayStation 2 from around the turn of the century.  The older boys turn to it when they need a change from their small screen games.  “Can we play a game on the TV?” they ask. This is my chance to tell them about the olden days, before Wi-Fi, when the only choice we had was to play our games on big screens plugged into the wall. Those were hard times.

After my sermon, if no good sports are on TV, I might let them use the appliance to play like the old people did. Their favorites have been Simpsons games, from back when young people used to watch that show and use products associated with the brand. These are one-player games, and I have two boys chomping to play, which means taking turns, a rotten system for having fun.

To overcome this difficulty, Big Brother and Buster have begun competing at sports games. In these long, school-less days before Christmas they’ve discovered a college basketball game. Seeing them play this together is much more entertaining than watching them destroy Springfield with the Plow King truck.

Big Brother plays on a real basketball team and has a good understanding of the rules. He knows what all the buttons on the game controller do and how his virtual players respond to his actions. Buster knows the ball is supposed to go through the hoop. You get points for that. He’s happy just to hold a controller in his hand, as long as he’s mostly sure pushing its buttons has some vague relationship to what’s happening on the screen.

This disparity of understanding leads to a mismatch. Buster has won every game so far. Instinct? Luck? Virtual motivational skills? I don’t know, but it’s funny to watch.

Our strategy is to win.

Our strategy is to win.

Once the score gets into double digits, Buster has to ask who’s winning.

“You are,” Big Brother moans.

When I ask him how the game is going, Big Brother complains about his team. “It’s not me. My players can’t make any shots.”  That may be true, but a coach takes responsibility for making his players better.

Big Brother starts out playing as our Spartans, but last time he got so discouraged he switched, in an act of outright betrayal to his father, to the University of Michigan. Buster doesn’t care which team he plays; he’ll motivate his guys to put the ball in the basket.

“Hello, Blue Jays,” Buster mocked as his big brother’s new, blue team took the court.

“They’re not Blue Jays,” Big Brother bristled. “They’re called Michigan Wolverines.”

“Hello, Michigan Wolverine Blue Jays.” Buster’s already taken trash talk to an esoteric level.

Big Brother has been a good sport, but sometimes his frustration gets the best of him. He tries to trick his brother into taking full court shots. “Shoot it from there and you’ll get 9 million points.”

Buster doesn’t need 9 million points. He’s already up by 21 with two minutes remaining.