Right now I’m sitting in the car (love these super-portable computers!) while my soon-to-be nine-year-old son is at baseball practice. Baseball is my least favorite sport and always has been. My dad has always maintained that baseball is “the thinking man’s game”, but he never bothered to explain where the thinking part came in. The first game my husband ever took me to was an Atlanta Braves spectacular and I was more impressed with the variety of snacks available than the game unfolding in front of me. When we lived in New York, we occasionally would go to both Mets’ and Yankees’ games, but at that point in my life, I was usually coping with small children, so the baseball took second fiddle. The same son who is now practicing once shelled peanuts and tossed the shells into the upturned curl of the highly coiffed hairstyle of the lady in front of us. I’m sure she got a surprise when she got home and combed her hair, but once I realized what was going on, there wasn’t really a way to tell her about her additional hair ornaments. The stadiums of all the minor league games we’ve attended, and there have been quite a few—Savannah Sand Gnats, Durham Bulls, Staten Island Yankees, and the Great Lake Loons—have bouncy castles, playgrounds, and other little people entertainment available, so most of my game time was spent monitoring those areas, a fact which has never bothered me.
But something cool happened last week: for the first time ever I got excited about baseball. Joseph’s team had not won any games until last Tuesday, and my experience of eight-year-old baseball had been that it was even MORE boring (if that’s possible) than the professional league. Most of the 6-inning game was spent watching the catcher try to get the ball back to the pitcher. The pitcher throws the ball, and generally the batter doesn’t hit it, so the catcher must get the ball. However, he doesn’t catch it from his crouched position, but instead must get up, with all that gear on, and trundle over to where the ball is. Of course, the catcher can’t see the ball because of the catcher’s mask, so he pauses to remove the mask in order to locate the ball. Finally the ball is tossed to the pitcher, who promptly misses it. Then he must go in search of it, but at least he doesn’t have to remove gear to find it. Meanwhile, the catcher is repositioning his mask and helmet and re-situating himself back behind the base, only to have the next pitch come and the scenario repeat itself. It was, in short, agony. I told my husband there was no way I was going to make the whole season of baseball, much less however many additional seasons of Little League await us. I didn’t get a lot of sympathy because Mark is right there in the bleachers with me.
So, last Tuesday, when Joseph’s team got behind 7 to 2 in the second inning, I settled into my lawn chair really wishing I had a beer. The third inning didn’t do much to advance the game in our direction either. But, in the fourth inning, things changed. Suddenly, our guys really started playing coherent defense, and in the bottom of the inning, actually connecting the bat with the ball. For the first time ever, I could see why it was important for the catcher to catch the ball, to stymie a stolen base. Suddenly, I understood the importance of the first baseman. If he doesn’t catch it, we’ve set ourselves up for the other team to get a possible run. Finally, I (sort of) got why pitchers are worth so much money—nobody’s worth that for throwing a baseball, but I’m talking about in the context of the game here—they set up the whole thing. For the first time ever, baseball made (a little) sense. It was very exciting.
Don’t get me wrong, I still find it to be an agonizingly slow game. I still get annoyed that, in general, baseball players don’t even have to be in that good of shape to get paid obscene amounts of money. I still don’t really think there’s that much thinking involved in the sport. And I still wish Joseph would play soccer in the spring instead of baseball—more running, more exercise, more action for spectator parents to take in.
But at least now I think I might be able to make it through the season.
The same thing has happened to me with soccer. As the coaches have taught Maddie and her team more about positions, I’ve learned the positions. As Mads explained to her grandfather for the millionth time that no, she didn’t score in the game because she plays defense and won’t ever score in that position, but that doesn’t mean she didn’t play well, I listen. I replay the game in my head and understand why it’s a team sport. Why no one person can take full credit for a game well-played or, conversely, have the blame placed squarely on him or her for a poorly executed play. While I understood the basic concept of soccer far better than baseball, I’ve really learned the strategy of soccer through Maddie’s coaches. (Obviously I didn’t play many sports growing up…)
Why has it taken me this long to “get” these sports? Partly, I’m more invested in them now since my children are participating. But partly it’s because I’m seeing them broken down at a child’s level.
When I travel, I find I like to pick up kids’ history books and read about where we are or where we’re going. Adult histories generally overwhelm me because the events are so complex and have so many angles, and authors writing for adults usually try to touch on as many of these as they can. Children’s authors have to boil it down more, find and express the basics in as concise of terms as they can. Once I have a grasp of the history from a child’s perspective, then I sometimes move on to the adult history versions. But for me, the key is to have that basis, to really get the basics.
This baseball lesson is one I need to remember to apply on a general basis to my life. Whenever things get too overwhelming or complex, I need to think like I am writing about it (whatever it is) for a child. I need to break things down. I am not a big picture person, and I need to remember that it’s ok for me to build a picture with the parts rather than start with the finished product.
When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, the way I process information became glaringly obvious. Plenty of people were trying to give me the big picture so I’d know what to expect. That’s great if that’s how you process information. Not me. I found I had to learn what I needed to know to make the next decision, not the decision 26 miles down the road. Sometimes I had to look into the future to be able to make an informed decision now, but mostly I discovered learning exactly what I needed to know NOW and not stressing myself out over what was coming in the future worked for me.
So, for now, I will try to continue discovering more intricacies about baseball (and soccer), and I will try to remember I think best when I think like a child…