“Heads up!!” We yell, from our fabulous protected viewing area, shielded from both the hot midday sun and fly balls. Immediately, all the siblings dash out to be the one to retrieve it. Within minutes my middle son is back having secured the treasure. “I gave it to Olivia,” he tells me with a shrug. “I got so many.”
“That’s nice,” I smile. With captured balls spilling from his duffle bag he can afford to be generous.
It is day six at the Cooperstown Dream Park, a tournament culminating my oldest son’s little league experience, where his team (and coaches) along with over a hundred others, stay on the compound in barracks for the total baseball ‘experience’ while my younger boys and I, along with the other families and siblings get a slightly different ‘experience’ at a nearby $69 a night hotel charging $250.
I turn my attention back to the game but it’s hard to watch. Our scrappy town team has made an impressive showing this week but this game is sloppy and all signs point down, especially the big one looming over the field showing us in need of five runs.
“We’re losing!” My youngest states matter of fact, in much the same way he announced the game before that we were winning. Either way doesn’t matter to him, he has more important issues to discuss. “Can I have money for a snack?” He asks with a sly grin.
I shush him, intent on my boy up at plate. The count is 3-2, and he has fouled off two balls already. He postures like a threat; his energy palpable. I wonder if he can see with his overgrown hair. “Smash it,” I whisper to myself and him over and over. And he does; hard, high and to the left. “Heads up!!” We all scream again to any unknowing passersby, and the littles, including my snack seeking son, scamper to retrieve the foul.
At the plate, my son gives the bat a test swing and a little twirl while my stare burns a hole in his helmet. He locks and loads and this time drives the ball hard between second and third, getting on base. I breathe, cheer and toss the stress over to the next mom.
This has been a week of damn good baseball. We watched our boys’ rise to challenges, swell with confidence and leave the field with their feet ten feet off the ground, although compared with many of the other players who dwarfed our boys by length, width and facial hair, it may not be so easily noticed.
There have been homeruns (and near homeruns – mere inches!!) that catapulted us from our seats; catches to the wall that drew our breath, seamless plays that made us grin wildly and nod to each other with pride and a merry go round of pitching that gave every player the opportunity to buy the “I pitched at Cooperstown’ tee shirt.
There have also been hits and bangs, broken fingers and broken spirits, slaps to the head for both the amazing and the devastating, great coaching and mentoring that exceeds the expected; knowing just when a kid needs a pat on the back or a kick in the butt, and allowing each boy the opportunity to feel proud and important and really experience the best in themselves.
Even on days like today, where the negativity buzzed around the dugout like flies and we beat no one but ourselves, when it is over any stray tears will be lost as they run, dive and barrel over each other like puppies in the dirt.
These times, like these boys, are so fleeting and these days are the ones to remember. We will look back on the laundry, the sun and bugs, the wine and the whining, the strategizing for the games and the schlepping to get there. We will remember these families who have become like family of our own and these boys with the balls in their gloves and the glimmer in their eyes, their swagger and innocence and the arms around each other’s shoulders and we will long for it all.
Heads up boys, we win.