Always trying to make contact

I guess this is more of a Xander story than a holiday story, but it has the benefit of being true and even cheerful.

My son Xander (short for Alexander — calling him Xander makes him unique in a crowd full of Alexanders and Alexandras) enjoys playing baseball, but he never had a chance to play in an organized league until we moved to Marlborough two years ago.  When he started, he was a 12 year old in a league that let in 12 to 14 year old boys, most of whom had been playing organized baseball all their lives.

(That, as it turns out, is a New England thing.  When I was growing up in Pennsylvania, football was king.  Since I was small and made up for it by being slow, I didn’t have much of a career.  Around here, everybody plays baseball.  Frankly, I think that’s a good thing, as long as they’re not accursed Yankee fans.)

Xander was smaller than most of the other boys at the time, but he always had more confidence than he could handle.

(Winston Churchill once famously said that the Balkans manufacture more history than they can consume locally.  I often feel similarly about Xander.  If he survives, he’ll be a very impressive adult.  Sometimes I think that’s a pretty big “if”.)

Xander therefore played anywhere and any time he got the chance.  Still smarting from my own little league baseball experiences (I got to play in a 12 to 14 year old league when I was 15 and nobody minded), I arranged to get the boy some lessons at a local batting cage.  That helped, but he was still way behind the other kids in skills development.  He had a natural eye, though, and was learning fast.

Anyway, at the end of that first season the league had an all-inclusive playoff.  The game was held on a Friday evening in late October (this was a Fall league focused more on instruction than winning) so it was pretty cold out.  I was teaching that week but made it back from Boston during the first inning.

The game was a back-and-forth affair, as games with kids that age often are.  Pitchers are unhittable for an inning or two, then can’t find the plate at all, then find it again sporadically.  Fielders made hard plays and botch easy ones.  Throwing to a cut-off man is always an adventure.

Finally we reached the bottom of the last inning (the 7th), with my son’s team down by three runs.  A couple of kids get on, a couple of outs happen, and eventually my wife and I realize that a potential nightmare is about to happen.  Xander is about to come to the plate with two outs and two men on in the bottom of the last inning of a playoff game.

Now as bad as my baseball career was, I still remember a lot of it.  I remember the first time I saw a real curveball and dived out of the way just before the umpire said “strike!” I remember actually hitting the ball over the center fielder’s head and making it all the way to second before the throw came in.  I remember fielding a ball cleanly at third (third? what the heck was I doing at third?) and being so surprised I’d snagged it that I airmailed it over the firstbaseman’s head.  I remember grounding to the shortstop and being thrown out at first even thought the fielder bobbled the ball three times.

(Another kid, trying to be nice, said to me on the way back to the dugout, “are you faking it, or are you really that slow?”)

So I’m very worried now, because if Xander strikes out to end the game with the tying runs on base, it could scar him forever.  I looked over a Ginger and I could tell she was thinking the same thing.

So what happened?  My boy fouls of a bunch of pitches, takes two strikes, and hits a grounder up the middle that he beat out for a single.  The next kid up flies out to end the game.

I, of course, let out a huge breath that I hadn’t realized I’d been holding.  When I met with Xander afterwards, I asked him about it.

“Weren’t you worried about striking out?” I asked.

“Nah,” he replied.  “I knew I’d make contact.”

And there you have it.  It’s been two years now and I’ll bet he’s even forgotten about it, but that’s Xander in a nutshell.  He’s got a lot to learn and the thought of him being a font of wisdom is bizarre, but that’s not a bad life lesson.  When it’s your turn at bat, know that you’ll make contact and everything will be okay.  I can live with that.

Happy holidays, everybody.

3 responses to “Always trying to make contact”

  1. Nice story! Reminds me of my little league days. Thanks for sharing!


  2. Football was king in Pittsburgh all right. I remember one season at South Catholic where the brothers (having received one too many parental complaints about broken bones) decided to organize leagues to dampen the weekly mayhem. “Flag football” they called it, idea being that ball carriers would have a red flag in their back pocket, and grabbing it would constitute a tackle.

    Every single kid showed up the first day for his game and glad to have the impartial referees too. Of course nobody paid any attention to the flags from the first play, and it’s not that we conferred about it in advance either.

    The poor brothers got pretty annoyed with us as the games progressed, so we started ignoring them too. They sent out a bulletin to parents before the second round disavowing the whole thing. We played out the whole schedule they laid out for us, the best sandlot season ever.

    PS: Ken, I got here through your page on Java and XML from last summer and it did the trick. Thanks a million, and the same from my students I’m sure.

  3. Hi Mike! Thanks for posting a comment here.

    I used to like the idea of flag football, but as you point out the execution was always a bit different than the theory. For me, the answer was two-hand touch. If you threw in a five-one-thousand rush (extreme, but my favorite), then I was a fantastic quarterback. I was great at standing back there and throwing to a spot. With a long rush count like that, there was no point in sending any big rushers after me, either, so I could even see down the field. For a complete non-athlete like me, that was wonderful. 🙂

    As an undergrad, I actually got a gym credit associated with touch football. Our gym instructor was also the school’s head football coach, as unlikely as that sounds. This was M.I.T. back in the early ’80’s, where we had a “club” football team only, whatever that meant. I never actually went to a game, but, then again, neither did anyone else. The ‘A’ league intramural championship was far more prestigious.

    Anyway, after one of our flag football games in P.E., I met the coach in his office to talk about plays and offensive strategies in general. We spent about an hour or so talking about options, not that there were many at my level. At least we got past the “everybody go out for a pass” stage.

    As it turned out, I missed a couple of P.E. sessions that semester for reasons I don’t remember, and very nearly didn’t get my one required P.E. credit. Then the coach remembered our extra session and counted it toward the credit, which gave me what I needed. Sweet.

    I loved playing football, but I never made it through a season without getting injured. The peak of my athletic career was in graduate school when I quarterbacked our “grad college” team to a 4 – 5 record and a narrow loss in the first round of the playoffs (I still say our winning touchdown at the end was in bounds — grrr).

    I also managed to crack a rib that season when I got kneed in the chest.

    (I said to the doctor at the time, “Cracked? Or broken? I thought cracked was less serious.”

    She looked at me somewhat patronizingly and said, “Either way, it’s like being a little bit pregnant.”)

    If I had my sports fantasy life to do over again (and I suppose I always do), then I’d dream about being a power-hitting outfielder for the Boston Red Sox. That’s the perfect job. You only work nine or so months of the year, and that for only a few hours a day; if it rains you don’t have to work; if the ball isn’t hit in your area you hardly have to move; if you get a hit three times out of ten and you hit 30 homers a year you’re a star; your career can last years and years and you’ll still be able to walk when it’s over, and you make about 15 to 20 million dollars a year. Sweet.

    At age 44 (45 next month), I have to admit that I think my window of opportunity on that career is getting short, though. In the meantime I’ll have to stick with this job. 😉

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