Glorious days in the sun
I write incessantly about my children and the game of football. From all perception, it consumes us and is the forefront in everything we do. In many ways that is true but I believe it would be the case with any endeavor they attempt. Although we have immersed ourselves in the sport and have experienced some of the greatest joys and relationships of our lives, there is one game that will always be dearest to my heart and that is baseball.
I grew up in Hawthorne, California, sixteen miles southwest of downtown Los Angeles and Dodger Stadium. Our only claim to fame is that it was home to the Beach Boys. Other than that Hawthorne really is not very significant and most people prefer to say they are from L.A. rather than this small town that has seen its share of crime and urban change.
At 10 years old none of that mattered to me. What mattered to me were two things, my batting average and the Los Angeles Dodgers. I didn’t even know Pop Warner existed and that kids played football. I thought it was a game only played by “grown ups”. We certainly did not care whether it was played in high school, unlike the 10 year olds I see here in Texas who wait in line to get the autographs of teenagers.
If I was not watching baseball I was playing it. We had no year-round or “Select ball” so organized play was only during the spring. It did not matter to us, however, because there existed different variations of it that allowed us to play anytime we wanted. Impromptu games of Wiffle Ball, Pickle, Fastpitch, Cup Ball or our beloved Over the Line would break out at the slightest hint of boredom during our day. It was not unusual to find a pickup game of Over the Line at any field or park and I always had a glove with me, just in case, even into my adulthood.
The game was a part of growing up in California and I always stated my children, boys or girls, would grow up with it.
Plans change sometimes and I left Hawthorne and California for the Lonestar state. Here we raised our children like any other Texan, I suppose, with football at the forefront. The Grand Old Game took second chair to the gridiron and my sons’ heroes did not play for the Dodgers but for the Texans and Longhorns. They still played baseball but money and effort did not go towards helping them excel in the sport like football. There were more pigskin and tackling pads in the garage than cowhide and pitchbacks.
Still, when football season was over and the fervor of the game died down, we were met with the quiet start of baseball. It was almost as if I had forgotten about the game every year. We would sign the boys up and I would volunteer as an assistant coach. Baseball was almost a chore for me, that is, until I walked onto the field for the first practice. The familiarity of it all would come back to me as if I had put up my spikes just yesterday. It was an old friend who would welcome me back home and remind me of all the stories of our time in the sun. It was born out of years of loving this game and I wanted my sons to love it as much as I did.
My youngest son played his last game this week. He does not intend to try out for the high school team which means the game is over for him. The pain on his face was visible and he quietly, discreetly wiped the tears from his cheek as he knew the significance of this time when maybe others did not. I then knew for certain, he loved the game as much as I.
Unlike football, baseball does not impose such an exact finality and there are opportunities to continue playing the game, or some form of it, well into our late adulthood. I played the game into my 30s. Who knows, maybe my sons and I will play the game together, one day. What a day that would be! For now, however, I will reminiscence about the wonderful time I had watching my boys play baseball.