DAYDREAMING WITH A GOLD GLOVE by Sara Courtney
Contemplating the world one inning at a time
Of all the sounds to herald the arrival of spring, the crack of the bat is my favorite. Here we are, shivering off a long winter with barely any pretty snow, and then, CRACK! A sound to let you know a new season is here, and summer is sure to follow, and the pace of life will slow down like the innings of baseball.
I didn’t play sports growing up, but for the second year in a row, I’ll be a Little League coach. My kids gravitate to sports. Football in the living room. Soccer in the dining room. Basketball with the laundry basket. A Super Bowl catch on the couch. The World Cup in between dinner bites. March Madness arrives every time I ask them to pick up their clothes. They can throw, catch, kick, juggle, dive, tackle and proclaim they will be drafted at any moment, hopefully soon, because they have broken paintings, a printer, part of a wall, and, most recently, our TV, in a spectacular catch reminiscent of David Tyree. In the backyard they kick the soccer ball, and the neighbors board up their windows as if a hurricane were coming.
People complain baseball is slow, but that’s only part of its charm, a throwback to a time when you could sit and watch a game and have a conversation with your friend and…that’s it really. Just enjoy the little things. And who can enjoy the little things more than little kids? And Little League is something special. It’s almost anti-competitive. A kid builds a sand castle while covering shortstop. Another pulls up flowers and tosses them in the air, catching them over her shoulder, Ken Griffey Jr. style. A boy runs after every grounder while he tests first base to see if its placement is permanent or merely a suggestion. Look at all the ways these kids contemplate the universe while playing baseball. Soccer and basketball go so fast. But baseball…baseball is the only sport they had to make a rule against eating during the game. It’s so slow it allows you to consider the world around you, and so, I would argue, attracts a certain kind of dreamer.
When coaching the young kids, we focus on the fundamentals. But in truth, there is not much to learn yet. In soccer, you could start at age six, spend all your time training, grow up and think, “I should’ve started earlier.” And you’d be right! That’s how technically complicated it is. But baseball isn’t like that. I show the kids how to scoop up a grounder, remind them to snap their glove shut like an alligator, and always throw to first. They learn to keep their eye on the ball and follow through on their swing. After they master that, they master standing around, waiting for the pitcher and the batter to battle it out. They learn to celebrate when they cross home plate. What else? They learn how to make friends. They learn how much sand is too much when throwing it. They learn how to chant and cheer and scream for ice cream when the game is over.
Coaching is a great way to learn a few things too. I’ve learned I can throw a solid pitch. I’ve learned how to dive out of the way of a line drive that knocked the hat off my head. I’ve learned just because a kid is climbing trees when he’s supposed to be on deck, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t care, and he might just burst into tears if he swings and misses. I’ve learned all kids, without exception, still see themselves as the hero, and I don’t want to be the one to yell “YOU’RE OUT!” when it comes to their dreams.
I’ve overheard my kids proudly tell their friends “My mom is the coach!”. It’s a little thing, but a kid’s world is made up of little things. So I’ve dusted off my glove once again, because it’s spring, and because I’m ready to let go of winter.
Spring is for the dreamers.
Sara Courtney is a writer living in Maplewood. She’s working on her knuckleball.