It tests you
David, a third grader who is playing in his second baseball game ever, steps to the plate to face Luca, an athletic fourth grader who has been playing since little sluggers tee ball.
The game moves really, really fast for the learners. We have a couple of them. The rules are complex: where do I throw it? Should I run to third on a grounder to the left side with less than two outs? Which way is left field? And the mechanics are just ridiculously hard. As has been observed a million times, the greatest hitters ever fail nearly 70% of the time.
David somehow manages to get his bat out over the plate at the right moment, and thanks to the physics of inelastic collisions, the hard thrown ball bounds off of it and over the first baseman’s head, rolling to a stop just down the line in that space where it’s gonna take a while for anyone to get there. David’s on his way to second when the throw goes into left field. When he gets to third, that kid kicks it to the fence. David makes it home and slides awkwardly (for no reason—there was no play). Lots of little league there.
The kids in our dugout go NUTS. It’s a nice bunch, again. Supportive, attentive, respectful of the game and each other and the harried adults who are trying to wrangle them. They all know it’s a BIG DEAL that David got a home run. (Single with three errors? That’s not how I scored it.) David’s beaming.
But as we look back out to the field, the coaches from the other team are talking to the umpire about something. They instruct Luca to step off the rubber and throw the ball to the first baseman, who touches the base. “HE’S OUT!” calls the umpire. In the thrill of the moment, David had forgotten to touch first base. The game moves really, really fast. David’s too confused to be crushed, but his older teammates know what happened and we do our best to shore them all up. Still some game to play.
In the next half inning—the bottom of the sixth, the end of the game—David’s playing third, we’re nursing a 1-run lead, and it’s the heart of the other team’s lineup. Our soft-tossing pitcher coaxes an ill-timed swing from one of their bruisers and he pops it up to the left side. David, undaunted, steps over and catches the ball. Calmly, easily, like he does this every day when in fact he’s never done it before in his life. It’s the critical out of the inning. From there, we hold the lead. He gets one of the game balls.
He passed that test. There’s another one for him and all the rest of them on Tuesday.
Indoors, of course, because this is the land the sun forgot and there’s still a foot of ice everywhere.
I threw grounders and pop-ups for over an hour; my forearm and elbow ache. I also got hit square on the top of the head with an errant pitch from a fourth-grader. Head’s OK, but the arm’ll kill tomorrow.
I hurt. And it is awesome.