By MICHEAL DAVIDOW, Radio Free New Hampshire
Unfinished business, here: summer is just beginning. The days are still long and the weather is hot. People have yet to leave for their annual vacations. The beaches aren’t full yet, the price of watermelon is still high, and gasoline is bound to go higher. The season itself comes in phases, though, and the first phase for me is already over.
If you read these columns, you might remember that my eight-year-old son plays baseball. He was a pitcher this year, and not a bad one. But his team did not survive the playoffs. They lost their final game.
He had pitched the game before this, going three solid innings. That had burned up his pitch count, which might have been why he didn’t do much in this affair. He played the field and he struck out twice. That got him down. But it was not even close. I lost count at the end, as I often do, but his team came up shy by six or eight runs. And just like that, their season was done.
I waited in the parking lot as his teammates trickled by. I told them all, “good game.” I waited longer, I checked for his number on every blue jersey in sight, and I finally gave up. He had thrown me a curve one game earlier this year by staying in the dugout, too distraught to leave. I thought perhaps that had happened again. It hadn’t, though. He and a few other kids had simply stayed behind to watch the game still being played on the next-door field.
Now the notion of sports is a fraught thing in American culture. We invest too much in it, we don’t just monetize it, we fetishize it, and we forget its true value: how it lets us escape our responsibilities for a little while, to trade them for a world where winning and losing have no real consequences at all; where the rules of engagement are black and white, and there are no grey zones to confound our best intentions; where we can fail without fear and succeed without hurting people. And I wonder sometimes about making little kids play these games. I wonder what it means to them, as opposed to us, the parents. Because it’s easy to get wrong. Even in his bracket, there are already angry moms, whining dads, and coaches who yell too much. I don’t want him to suffer from that.
Yet I remember when I was a kid, my best friend and I went outside one day. We had time, we had a tennis ball, and we ended up improvising a simple and ridiculous game, with simple and ridiculous rules: we threw our ball directly at each other as hard as we could, trying to force the other person backwards. We were on a soccer field, and our goal was to push our opponent all the way to the end. We threw and we threw until it was dark and neither of us ever scored. We kept playing until we couldn’t anymore. I remember that afternoon, forty years later.
And I remember watching when the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004. For the first time, I let myself linger after a Game Seven; meaning that I kept the television on, to see the players celebrate. They all stayed on the field for as long as they could. Because things don’t change. The reason we try to win these games, is just so we can keep playing them. We all want to be the last ones standing. We want there to be no more games possible; we want the snow to bury our footprints.
In finding my son after his game, anyway, I saw him from a distance at first. He was standing with one hand resting against the chain link fence. He looked relaxed in his dirty uniform; he had nowhere to go and nothing to do. But his face surprised me. My son is often goofy; occasionally very sad; almost always, even confoundingly, cheerful. In this one moment, though, he simply looked serious. He never looks serious. I told him it was time to go home, and he walked away with me, back to our car. We had to eat dinner. His mother was waiting for us.
At the age of eight, he had been watching other children play ball, in a moment when his own playing was over. Of course he had looked serious. That is the entire essence of growing up.
Another life lesson, courtesy of Little League: where every game counts, including the losses.
Michael Davidow is a lawyer in Nashua. He is the author of Gate City, Split Thirty, and The Rocketdyne Commission, three novels about politics and advertising which, taken together, form The Henry Bell Project, The Book of Order, and his most recent one, The Hunter of Talyashevka . They are available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.