I was watching a baseball game for very young people last week. You know, the sweet, simple kind of game in which the dads from both teams are helping small fry (of either team) learn which direction to run around the diamond and how they need to keep the eye glued on the ball instead of on the beetle crawling through the dust at their feet . . .
Yeah, one of those games . . .
It was mostly precious viewing, and sometimes hilarious, to this adult, remembering years I played unorganized neighborhood softball and years we spent shouting and trying not to sunburn when our own kids were participants.
Such young players as I was watching last week sometimes have visions of grandeur and imagine themselves as major league players, striking poses they’ve learned from watching TV while they yank up their hopelessly-too-large knickers or flop around in shoes they have to be reminded repeatedly to tie, already.
It’s a hybridized version of the game where being absolutely coated in dirt is the brown badge of courage.
Having two amazingly clean streaks running down your face, from shed tears, is not the goal.
During this game, one very small fry was progressing toward home, courage displayed for all to see, in the fact that because of his helmet covering his hair, no one could really tell what color he was under all that dust. . . .
At the same time, another small one, a teammate, was practicing being big league, posturing with a bat, swinging it hither and thither, “warming up” for the whole world to see—too near the baseline which, truly, merely is a technicality to these kids.
The two boys collided about five paces from home. Or rather, the warm-up bat and the runner’s small knee collided, tripping the runner, causing him to slide into home, face first, landing with tiny fingers grasping, about nine inches from their goal. With his little body heaving in tears he was unwilling to display, he remained face-planted in one-inch-thick dust, while several dads were yelling at him to “Tag home! Tag home!”
Still he sobbed.
Anger at being tripped while making such a valiant drive for a score, pain welling up in his knee, shame at crying, and the sheer knowledge that by now, he’d be out—all worked on one young ego to produce a small mud flow down the slopes of his cheeks, as coaches (from both teams) helped him up, determined his injury was superficial, and literally walked him the remaining inches to the plate, where he could finally tag his goal, to the applause of the moms (of both teams) as he then was carried off the field, hugging—clinging to—his daddy the whole way, while the child who could have tagged him out stood, ball in hand, arm hanging loosely at his side, somehow knowing this just was not the time for it.
In the dugout, moms gently raised a tiny, elasticized pants cuff to ascertain the degree of his injury, ordered coaches to provide ice, found the flavored and sweetened drinks reserved for after-game, and cooed to one small, reviving sense of pride about how proud they were of him and how he had, actually, indeed, scored a point for the team. His face was getting cleaner, as were the backs of his hands, as he finished his crying and began smiling. His two grannies, from just outside the dugout fence, encouraged him in his bravery. The bat-wielding child came to him and sweetly apologized (no doubt sent by his mom to man up and own the act). Immature forgiveness extended in handshakes.
Cheer budded and swelled.
And just like that, the small storm blew over, willingness to bat again sprang up, triumphant and eternal, from the faint heart, and that one awe-inspiring phrase that can only be called “AMERICAN” sounded out: