BY MICHAEL DAVIDOW, Radio Free New Hampshire
Spring update: the Red Sox are fair to middling this year, with a better than five-hundred win percentage and a handful of interesting players to watch. They have a new hitter from Japan who stands at home plate like Hamlet’s friend Horatio, who took fortune’s buffets and rewards with equal thanks: hits and ground-outs, at any rate. Each year I look for players that my son can learn from and I am very glad to have Masataka Yoshida, late of the Nippon League Orix Buffaloes, inhabiting the outfield at Fenway Park.
In more local news, the kid’s new manager has slotted him for the mound again, as well as first base. But this manager also believes that each player should learn each position, so he has also spent time at second, short, third, and the outfield. He needs to learn to keep his glove down. He also needs to learn to keep his glove up. In general, he needs to learn what to do with his glove. Right now he treats it like an ice cream cone. He likes having it around, but it’s of questionable value when fielding a line drive.
One recent evening, the opposing team was shy a player, so my son’s team needed to chip in to help. Each inning, one of their number trotted out to left, to stand there awkwardly, think about hamburgers, and otherwise practice one of the most famous rites of the great American religion of boyhood: praying that nobody hits the ball to you.
I asked my son what was going through his mind out there, and he said he planned to “just chase it down and chuck it back in” if anything actually came out to him. He made it sound as if this was conscious underperforming; that he’d be damned if he was going to rob a teammate of a double or something like that. But I knew, and in his heart of hearts he knew, that chasing it down and chucking it back in represents the height of his abilities as an outfielder.
He can catch pop flies in our yard and throwing them to him is not dissimilar to playing fetch with a labrador retriever. Whatever you toss out comes back to you with a smile, a request for more, and a certain amount of either drool (in the case of the dog) or, well, perhaps drool again (in the case of the kid). But in the back yard, my kid will catch these things. Whereas in a game, I have yet to see any kid do much more than allow a pop fly to drop, politely, in front of him or her, so that the child in question can then calmly collect it and hug it to his or her chest as the batter rounds the bases and everyone in the entire world screams throw it, throw it, for the love of all things holy, just throw it.
They say that Waterloo was won on the fields of Eton. The meaning behind that phrase is that the lessons of sport can be applied in other contexts. To be honest, though, I don’t know what these kids are learning. Some of them are sore losers, some of them still cry when they do poorly, some of them still say mean things about other players. If they’re tired, even a good kid will do all three of those things. And even the major leagues, the real ones, hardly seem much better. The reason I like Yoshida so much is that he stands out with his stoicism and his craft.
If there’s anything to learn from Little League, then, perhaps it comes from the parents instead.
One other thing about seeing my son in left field, playing for the wrong side. In the middle of the game, I found myself hoping that his stay out there would be brief, meaning that I was hoping that his own and otherwise precious team would be three up and three down. I was rooting for the opposition, in other words. It felt a little strange, but it also felt fine.
In truth, we do this in Little League all the time. We always hope the other side does well. We always feel for them, if they don’t. We all know it’s baseball, we all know it’s kids, and we all know we’re there for the same reasons: for our children to be healthy and to play hard and fair.
In ancient days, we had a name for that ability to root for the other side, and to see the value in doing so. We called it civic-mindedness, and we treasured it greatly in our courts, our Congress, and our national politics writ large. It helps to have kids, sometimes, to remember these things.
Davidow writes Radio Free New Hampshire for InDepthNH.org. He is also 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 The Hunter of Talyashevka . They are available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Davidow’s Chanukah Land can be found here.