Spring training came early for my little baseball player.
By “early,” I mean a few days before Halloween when he started a two-month clinic at a local sports academy. Not sure what I mean by “little.” Excitable is nearly 5-foot-6 and has mistakenly played in my Size 11 cleats before.
He’s following my footsteps in another way. He’s going to be a Little League catcher.
At least he’s decided this on his own. My coach ordered me behind the plate when I was 12. Having never caught a single pitch before, I pleaded ignorance about the “tools of ignorance,” as the catcher’s gear is known. Since I stuck with the position the rest of my youth baseball career, the better plea would have been insanity.
I came to welcome the added safety a face mask and chest protector offered. In the late 1970s, the league I played in was the Siberia of youth baseball. Our home field was a semi-abandoned park where hippie burnouts would occasionally lurk among the crumbling stone barbeques. My son played a few games there this past year and I’m happy to report the facilities have been greatly upgraded. However, just like in my childhood, we lost nearly a case of baseballs to the no-man’s land beyond the field’s stonewall borders. In my day, we abandoned those fouls for fear of zonked-out stoners; today’s ballplayer is different, he frets about deer ticks and Lyme disease.
Those aren’t concerns at my son’s regular home field, one of the best in the city with its elevated bleachers for great spectator views and lights for endless summer nights of play. From April through October, the ballpark becomes a second home for many local families. Last year, I almost had to have my mail forwarded there.
The regular season started in April with four losses for Excitable’s team. Seventeen consecutive victories later – most close calls, many come-from-behind rallies – his team won the league championship in late June, ending with the boy being mobbed by his teammates after his hard grounder blew through the second baseman’s legs and scored the winning run.
July brought All-Star games, tournaments and recreational “friendship” leagues which I often volunteered to help at when Excitable wasn’t playing just because I can. After getting August off (we live in a baseball city but the parents still need a vacation), September and October brought the city-wide “fall ball” league. This is where and when Excitable offered to go behind the plate to replace our catcher who moved away.
Despite the added practice and constant squatting, he’s enjoying it so far. That might change after the first 90-degree day, foul tip off the wrist or the inevitable, um, bell ringing. But there’s one perk he’ll enjoy. I’ll no longer yell at him when his wears his cap backward. As one of my first coaches would say, only catchers and clowns should do that.
“And to be a catcher,’ he’d say, “you have to be a clown.”
Note: A version of this first appeared in Stamford magazine in March 2014. Excitable is now 5-foot-10 and wearing a size 13.