We were at Alex’s last regular season ball game last night. It was a 7:30 game, which is a bit late (in my opinion) for elementary school kids to be playing ball, since the games are two hours long and that means a much later bedtime than the usual around here.
It feels even later when the rain starts falling about halfway through…but I digress.
Bill and I sat at a little picnic table just behind first base, where Alex was at the start of the game. A chain link fence surrounds the field, of course, so we were safe from anything he might not catch.
Two other games had just ended, so the whole area near the snack bar and between the two fields was filled with kids in uniforms, parents, grandparents, coaches, and the players’ siblings, both younger and older. Everyone milling around, talking, eating hotdogs, rehashing the games, making plans for play dates, and so on.
There was this one little boy, a round-faced, blond-haired, giggly little toddler of maybe two. He was running across the blacktop, laughing, while his two older sisters and his father or uncle or someone chased after him. One of them would catch the little boy, swing him up in the air and bring him back to where the rest of the family was, and then he’d take off again, on his sturdy little toddler legs, laughing with glee.
Bill and I watched that little boy…and we watched Alex at first base. Alex who is tall, long-limbed, slender, and runs like the wind. He was constantly in motion, a few steps this way or that, glove ready, eyes on the pitcher, the batter, the shortstop, the coaches, the ball.
You can see where I’m going.
I said to Bill “I’m having a Sunrise/Sunset moment.”
Our boy is ten now. Our boy who, years ago, was very much like that blond-headed little running, laughing boy. Only blonder. But similar. Rounder face, pudgy toddler body, with that…deliberate, determined way of walking and running and doing pretty much everything, because it’s still kind of new, kind of awkward.
At ten, Alex is stretched out and fluid. He is focused, his body does what he wants it to do automatically. There is grace. Not always – he’s still a kid, still has his awkward moments – but a lot of the time.
At one point a kid on the other team hit a dribbling grounder toward the pitcher, who scooped it up and threw it to Alex a bit high. Alex had to jump to make the catch, and as he landed he was off the base, so he did this little hopping foot-to-foot thing and had his foot on the bag before the runner could make it. I heard one of the coaches yell “Nice dancing, Alex!”
And that’s what it is. A dance. You have to learn the steps. And then practice, practice, practice until you no longer have to think “one, two, kick, ball change” or “watch, jump, catch, get back on the base.” I see other kids, newer to the game, who are still learning the steps. They do one thing (hopefully it’s catch the ball) and then they hesitate and look while they’re trying to remember the next step. Meanwhile, of course, a coach or fifty are yelling “THROW TO FIRST!”
It’s not all that long ago that Alex hesitated like that. In fact, he still has those moments. They all do. They’re just kids.
But they’re getting there.
The top half of the inning ends and Alex is in the dugout with the rest of the kids, waiting for his turn at bat. While they wait they are restless and loud, yelling out the various baseball chants they have learned along the way.
“We want a single/just a little single
S-I-N-G-L-E/single single SINGLE!
We want a double/just a little double
D-0-U-B-L-E/double double DOUBLE!”
“Alex takes the bat/he gives the ball a whack/ if I were you, i’d scoot yer booty back, and back, and back, until you hit the shack!”
or the one where one kid hollers – drill-seargent-like – the first name of the kid at bat (we’ll call him Joe Baseball) and the rest of the kids have to answer with the last name…
“I say Joe, you say Baseball! Joe!”
The boys are loud. At times it seems like it’s more about seeing who can be loudest than it is about cheering on their teammate. I think it’s pent-up energy while they wait their turns.
Anyway, last night I was watching them in the dugout – we had a good view from our picnic table – and I noticed that Alex was one of the loud voices leading some of these cheers/chants. Loud voice, light in his eyes, little grin, one of the guys.
And in that moment I felt a little ripple of something, a little shimmer, a little double vision. A layering of all the Alexes through the days and weeks and months and years, from pudgy little laughing toddler to sleek and loud ball player.
This is who he is now, at this moment in time. He is still – in my eyes – a newborn, a three-month-old, a crawler, a climber, a toddler, a pre-schooler, a kindergartener, and so on. And he’s always had little friends to play with through the years.
But this is different.
He has teammates. And he’s played baseball (or t-ball and baseball) for about half his life now, but this year is different. This year he fits better in his skin, he is comfortable, he is rarely tentative. He is not new, he is not shy. He is observant and thoughtful and smart. He catches criticism and holds it in his glove, examining it without biting his lip to keep his face a mask and the prickly feeling in his eyes at bay. He takes what he needs from what the coach has thrown to him, and then he throws that ball back into the game as improved technique, or better focus, or holding his elbow up when he’s at bat.
All this is a wonder to me. And so…mature.
I know it sounds more dramatic than necessary, but…so be it. I just…I didn’t play any sports as a kid. I was very shy and felt very awkward, even though, like Alex now, I could run fast and I was tall. I had a baseball glove (still have it), and a football…I could throw and catch and hit. But I was timid and didn’t want to be on a team.
I’m so glad Alex isn’t me.
I watch this transformation, this blossoming from little tentative rookie to a (relatively) seasoned minor league player who pitches and plays first and third and shortstop interchangeably. And I am so proud and thrilled when I watch.
And I watch him laughing and shouting and being a part of that team, so comfortable in his position among them, so secure, so relaxed.
The ten-year-old me I remember just marvels at this ten-year-old son of mine.
I’m so happy for him.
I’m so happy that even when he had awful days where he didn’t hit the ball or even swing the bat or catch anything or throw well, and the coach’s words stung, no matter how gently (rookie league, anyway) those constructively critical words were given, and he wouldn’t look at me or Bill because it took all his concentration to be a big boy (because there’s no crying in baseball, as we all know)….I’m so happy that he worked his way through all of that to become the kid he is right now.
It’s kind of a magical experience, this motherhood thing.