Several years ago, I wrote this piece about one little league baseball game during the middle of a long season. While my son, Joey, is now 14 years old and has made himself into quite a player, this moment stands out to me as a Dad. Happy Father’s Day to all the dad’s out there.
Proud Moments in Fatherhood
Along with the pain-in-the-ass of schlepping, scolding, and suturing, every now and again a moment comes along during the course of fatherhood that makes a guy feel… well, more alive. Last night I had one of those moments.
Joey plays 10 year-old little league for the Natick Mets. If I’m being completely honest, he’s not one of the better players on the team. He missed a couple of years because he didn’t want to play which stunted his development. He has trouble moving, and he seems to be developing a fairly serious case of myopia that has yet to be clinically addressed. So it is that he has difficulty doing most baseball-related activities. You know, throwing, catching, running, etc.
But despite these challenges, he really works hard at it and he manages to hit the ball with a level of consistency that amazes me. He makes contact even though he probably can’t really see the pitch until it’s right on top of him. I think this helps because he really isn’t afraid of getting hit. So, unlike most of the kids his age, he never bails out on good pitches. And, if he makes contact, he usually gets a hit. Still, he spends a lot of time on the bench to let others on the 14-person team play.
This was the backdrop for last night’s game against the Tigers, one of the top teams in the league, due in no small part to their stacked pitching staff of heat-throwing 10 year-olds. In the first inning, Joey gets up to bat, cap on backwards beneath his helmet, batting gloves on, and black Mizuno bat in hand, at the ready, to face a kid armed with a cannon. He is seriously throwing like an adult. The first 4 or 5 Mets barely even attempt to swing against the kid’s heat, plainly petrified of getting pegged by one of his wild fastballs. So Joey steps in, measures his stance against home plate, like I taught him, and gets ready. I like to think that he’s running the swing thought I gave him through his head, “stay back and swing hard.” He offers at the first pitch and misses. He connects on the second pitch for a grounder to third, which, combined with an error at first, turns into the team’s only hit through the first three innings.
Eventually, the baseball gods show the Mets some mercy and that pitcher is removed for a no-less-hard-throwing kid who looks like the second coming of Carlos Zambrano. This guy, however, can’t throw strikes and the Mets soon mount a comeback to tie the game at 4-4. Joey strikes out swinging against this kid somewhere in the fourth inning.
In this little league the games are six innings long. It’s nearly 7:30 and the sun is setting quickly. The spectating parents are cold. The siblings are cranky and everyone wants to go home. But it’s a tie game. The Mets, as the home team, come to bat in the bottom of the 6th needing a run to win. The mini-Carlos Zambrano has the Mets in a collective funk and believing that they will be the recipient of that night’s big red welt in the back or leg or shoulder. Two of the team’s good hitters quickly go down swinging, obviously just wanting to get it over with and sit back down. Then, what should be a foul tip turns into a bunt and an erroneous throw becomes the potential winning run on second.
Joey is up. From the on-deck circle, he looks over at me, and I nod. “Stay back, swing hard, ” I mouth without speaking. He steps into the box, digs in, measures his stance on the plate and awaits the pitch. It’s about two feet over his head, but he flails at it anyway. I groan, a little bit too loudly, and the other parents look over at me. The next pitch is in the dirt and easy to lay off of. “Good eye,” I yell with clipped enthusiasm. The third pitch is a juicy offering. Joey takes a hack and tips it into the backstop. Oh, so close! At this point, I am visibly agitated. I can’t sit. The entire crowd is rapt and at attention. There is no noise. There is nothing but the next pitch. After an eternity it comes with what seems like smoke trailing from it. Joey grips the bat, turns on it and, crack, a line drive to center. In slow-motion, the ball sails past the shallow playing fielder, the man on second rounds third and cruises into home standing up. The Mets stream out onto the field, leaping and screaming in sheer delight. They mob the runner at home and then Joey as he comes trotting in from second, slamming him repeatedly on the helmet. The other team stands on the field in stunned silence, dejected. The game is over.
Amidst the continuing celebration that the coaches cannot quite quell, Joey looks over at me. I’m standing and cheering. I give him a nod and say, “you’re my hero.” He nods back at me and then returns to his laughing teammates. The coach gives him the game ball, which he brandishes with obvious pride. All is right, and life is good. I can’t help but feel like I should thank him, but of course, he wouldn’t understand what that moment means to me; at least not until he has a boy of his own.
Andrew D. Kang, 6/9/09, Father
Joey today – the player he worked hard to become.
Andrew D. Kang, JD, LICSW, is a former attorney turned licensed psychotherapist. His practice, Boston Professionals Counseling, LLC, focuses on helping attorneys and professionals with the issues they face and is located in Boston, Massachusetts. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website athttp://www.bostonprofessionalscounseling.com