On my bulletin board I have a faded article from Southern Living magazine titled These Baseball Years. It’s from the June 2003 issue, when my son was four years old and just dipping his toe in the water of what would become a full-fledged baseball obsession. Now, 9 years later and in his last hurrah of Little League, I re-read the article and nodded my head in agreement.
Baseball has been a constant in our house, and it’s provided me a way to connect with my kid, who tends to be rather quiet and lives in his own head. He’s never been one to come home from school with news of the day’s events, nor does he disclose much under direct questioning. If there were a hall of fame for one-word answers, he’d be in it.
All of that changed, however, when I realized that if I knew something about baseball, especially about his beloved Red Sox, I’d have a direct line into him. Any parenting expert will tell you that if you want to connect with your kids, you have to do it at their level and with their interests in mind.
In the article, author Joe Rada says that “baseball is a grand metaphor for the game of life. Through baseball we explore the weighty issues of winning and losing gracefully; getting along with others; setting goals; playing hard and by the rules; rolling with the punches; the value of physical health and the treacheries of drug abuse.”
He also describes how his son sleeps on baseball-themed sheets under a ceiling fan with baseball-bat blades. Sounds familiar. At the time when I ripped the article out of the magazine, my kid slept on sheets decorated with cars & trucks, but it wasn’t long before we re-did his room with a baseball theme. We chose the neutral brown paint color for his room based on which shade was closest to infield dirt, and the one accent wall we painted red was carefully matched to the Red Sox jerseys. His ceiling fan is regulation, but his lamp and his curtain tie-backs are baseball-themed. As he moved through Little League seasons, we added shelves to hold trophies, and now I’m worried those shelves will collapse under the weight.
This last season of All Stars is the end of an era. We’ve spent as much time in the stands as we have around our dinner table, and we’ve bonded with the other players’ families in a friends-for-life kind of way. We’ve seen each other through job loss, injuries & illness, new babies, and high school graduations. We’ve supported each other through health crises, including my own. The summer I spent in the hospital instead of at the All Star games in 2010 was brutal, but it was made bearable by the love and support that came from the team. The Season of the Pink Sweatbands was the team’s best, and my framed photo of the entire team, including coaches, wearing pink sweatbands and saying “This one’s for you!” sat in each hospital room I occupied that summer. It remains one of my most treasured possessions.
Like Joe Rada, we plan our family vacations around the baseball schedule, delaying as long as possible in hopes that we’ll be making a trip to the State Championship in late July before we take off for two weeks at the beach.
I don’t know why I kept that faded article all these years, but now that my kid is heading toward the end of his Little League career, I’m glad I did. As Rada writes, “Long after my son settles into being whatever kind of man he’ll be, I’ll still see his upturned chin and hear his sweet voice shouting across the backyard, ‘I got it!'” I will, too.
Texas is a baseball powerhouse in general, and our neck of the woods is no different. We’re right down the highway from Pearland, whose Boys of Summer blazed a trail from Texas to Williamsport, Pennsylvania, last summer to go nearly all the way in the prestigious Little League World Series.
This truckload of Pearland boys could be from any Little League in Texas; hopefully in a couple of years it will be my kid’s First Colony team. We watched every game last summer, cheering for those boys in blue and hoping they would prevail. We laughed at the way the media zeroed in on the Pearland moms and their blinged-out team shirts. I guess not everyone “does” baseball that way, but around here, it’s de rigueur for baseball moms to have glitzy shirts, often with their kid’s number emblazoned in rhinestones. Writer Ken Hoffman said the Pearland team “tore through Texas tournaments and blew into Williamsport with tape-measure home runs, speeding- ticket-worthy fastballs and bedazzling mothers that the Little League World Series won’t forget.”
All Stars is an exciting time. Grueling, too, with practice 7 days a week until the games start. We plan our vacations around the All Stars schedule, and schedule our daily activities around practice. The first tournament begins Tuesday, and I sure hope the Big Red Machine blows through District and Sectionals the way they did last summer, blazing a trail straight for the State Championship in Tyler, TX.
Since I missed pretty much all of it last summer, I didn’t realize that our district, Texas East Little League, “stretches from the Sabine River in the East to I-20 in the North to I-35 on the West to San Antonio and from there to the Gulf of Mexico and back to the Sabine River,” according to the Texas East website.
We’re that little strip of green in the middle, District 16. Texas is a big state, the second-biggest in the country in both population and area, and baseball is serious business around here. I don’t know how many Little Leagues there are in Texas, but considering that this great state is 773 miles wide and 790 miles long and populated by some 25 million people (thank you, Wikipedia), I’d say there are a bunch.
I’ve written a lot about having missed so many of Payton’s games last summer. Don’t worry, I’m not going to re-hash it today. Suffice to say that if it had just been the bilateral mastectomy in mid-May, I would have been in fine shape for the All Star summer schedule. But no, the post-mastectomy infection had to surface, and the resulting hospital stays and surgeries meant there would be no trip to Tyler for me. From the moment that infection reared its ugly head, my life became one complication after another, and I began to live the famous Winston Churchill quote of “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” Just do it without being able to watch your kid play the best baseball of his life. From mastectomy to infection, to nearly 30 days in the hospital, to multiple tissue excisions, to saying good-bye to the tissue expanders, to a shaky recovery involving all manner of antibiotics and home health, to slowly very slowly getting a semblance of a normal life back to finally getting around to reconstruction, to the long recovery process after The Big Dig. Quite a circuitous route I took, with very little baseball.
So this summer, I’m going to soak it all up. Every scorching minute of it. Since Texas is in a major, seemingly unending drought, we probably won’t have to worry about getting rained out, like we did a few times last summer. I’ll be in my blinged-out shirt, cheering hard for the boys in red, and reflecting back on how much I missed last summer at the ballpark.