Radio Free N.H.: Playing First Base in Little League Should Come With Hazard Pay

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Michael Davidow, Radio Free New Hampshire

By MICHAEL DAVIDOW, Radio Free New Hampshire

Last summer, my wife and I went through the couch pillows, found all our spare change, and scraped together enough cold cash to sell our home in Possum Hollow and move to Possum Estates instead.

We did this for the schools (also for the waters). (Instant footnote / cultural reference: “Why did you come to Casablanca, Rick?” “I came here for the waters.” “But there are no waters here.” “I was misinformed.”) (That footnote was brought to you by a middle-aged man who likes old movies.)

Anyway, in addition to learning where the town dump is, how to vote, for whom to vote, and how to de-ice a driveway with a ninety-degree slope, we’ve also had to figure out how Possum Estates operates its Little League. Turns out that they run it the same way our old league did: with a lot of hard work done by tired dads for very little thanks and no money at all. (The snack stand, however, features a fine little chardonnay and a lovely selection of hors d’oeuvres…)

Anyway again, my son, who now answers when playing to the charming name “Dawg,” has picked up first base along with his standard pitching chores. As a general rule, every completed ground out in one of his games still qualifies as a minor miracle: it requires one kid to pitch, one kid to hit, one kid to field, and one kid to catch. That’s four competencies on display at once. As another general rule, the most dangerous kid on the field is invariably the kid who plays second base, who is required by law to show off, and to throw as hard as he can at my son’s head, from ten or fifteen feet away. As a third general rule, every other throw to first base will have the accuracy of a Donald Trump tweet, the authority of a Kamala Harris policy speech, and the general effectiveness of a Mitch McConnell smile.  

In short, playing first base in Little League should come with hazard pay. I thought about getting him a specialized glove, but I have decided to save up for body armor instead.

The wonder is that we are still out there playing. He is a little boy, playing a little boy’s game. This won’t last, and I don’t look forward to its ending.

There is no magic in the broken clockwork of these games. The kids still cry at times. They get grumpy and lazy, often in the middle of a play. Outfielders stand and stare; infielders get impatient. Yet there are also random moments of true school-age courage; every kid deserves respect when he throws another pitch on a ball-three count or manages to swing on a strike-two.

There are also flashes of true athletic grace, amidst the blown plays and the slow-motion disasters; these kids are equidistant between tee ball and high school, and high school is not far off from the real thing. And there is also, finally, the heart of the matter: that this is a simple game; that running and throwing and catching are things that make intuitive sense; that we can’t help but be drawn to things that are hard and real, even as we spend so much time and effort on virtual things in every other aspect of our lives.

Things we don’t even understand. I don’t know how my computer works. I don’t know how my telephone works. As a peasant in the thirteenth century might have wondered why the local witches had cursed his barley crop, I sit in my office and regard my IT department with the exact same mixture of fear and distrust.

In fact, for all that we congratulate ourselves on being more knowledgeable and more progressive and more moral (so, so, so much more so) than those who came before us, the truth is that our ancestors probably understood the sheer mechanics of their everyday lives far better than we can ever hope to.

 From morning to night, they likely had a better grasp of how their world actually turned. Lucky people, to know the ground on which they walked, and to trust that it would not buckle under their weight.

So it is in Little League. Newton’s physics suffice on a ball field. We don’t need relativity, we don’t need the quantum. There is cause and effect, there is motion and stasis, and the relation between different events is plain. Someone hits a ball, and my son tries to deal with it. Watching him breaks my heart a dozen times per game.

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.

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