Before beginning another major series I wanted to discuss something a little more personal, something that people might relate to. Something more down to earth. Babe Ruth baseball season starts today, Saturday, April 6 (it’s 2019, for posterity’s sake). The game starts at 8 AM–or the ‘scrimmage’ (does not count towards the regular season), and I will provide updates, not play-by-play, but more og the usual sociological perspective in line with the title of this piece.
Anyway, to begin with there is my son. He’s 13 year’s old and he is extremely fast. He has a strong, if rather wild, arm and, he is a particularly good fielder, which is pretty rare in his age group, where everyone’s chief interest is to swing for the fences on every pitch. And that’s another thing, call it the weakest part of his game: the boy can’t hit. Oh, he makes contact, not feebly flailing away a half a second too early or too late. He just usually dribbles the ball through the infield, or pops out to shallow left. Sometimes his speed gets him on base, and he has an excellent eye, walking at least once nearly every game over his four year career (this is his fifth season.)
I have no idea what to make of his team yet. This is his first year in the Babe Ruth league. Last year (our first in this present community) many of the other boys playing alongside him played in the same regional ‘youth baseball’ league (‘Little League’ is apparently yet another term whose time has passed, sinking into some swirl of uncertainty and offense.) Some of those kids are pretty damn good. Some of these newly teenage behemoths are bigger than me.
Last year the team he was on was run by a terrible person–an angry, pushy coach whom no one on the team and none of the parents liked. He would humiliate kids for not playing well–for missing a fly ball or striking out with runners on. He would yell at the kids–yank them from the game in the middle of an at-bat and then tell them that they sucked in the dugout. You might be surprised, or even shocked, to hear this, but you shouldn’t be.
Sports parents take on a few forms, none of them particularly admirable. You can be the stomping, ranting bully, always demanding the unrealistic from their child, living out their own shattered dreams by insisting that their child succeed where they couldn’t. Sometimes the parents are just assholes, understanding nothing about team play and only interesting in their own child, considering them better than everybody else regardless of whether they actually are. In truth, the parents of the most talented kids tend to be far better people, those who might drive their children very hard, but do so with support and genuine interest in what the child is doing.
Other sports parents scream violence from the stands–calling out umpires, on rare occasion even running on the field to argue balls and strikes. These are also the parents who boo kids on the other team, who laugh out loud and mock some poor child who missed a ball and caused a run to score. They criticize their child for striking out and treat them like a loser because they could not drive in the winning run.
Then there are the parents like myself and, frankly, most of the others, realizing that their child is never going pro, and there to support them in any way they can, watching the games endlessly, often not wanting to be there and frequently annoyed at the endlessness of the day after day games and the two month loss of the weekend. We are the ones who laugh in the stands, mostly condemning the coaches and rooting for one another’s children. We stay out of the rough and tumble of the urgent, psychopathic parents in team uniforms, pretending that they are an actual part of the league. Most of us simply sit there and watch when parents are asked to help clean up the field after the game. We contribute the bare minimum–our child having fun, and take it unseriously.
Here are some of the parents present today in my upper middle class suburban community (still a foreign land for this jaded and impatient city boy): take this guy, walking past me as I sit in the car to avoid the wet cold until game time. It is about 42 degrees (Fahrenheit, for those trapped in the metric system) and it rained all night long. This man looks silly in orange shorts riding up the crack of his ass, his legs goose-pimpled beneath their going slightly gray tangled hair. He’s in an anonymous sweatshirt, perhaps promoting a different sports league out of his child’s past, or maybe even one from his own. He’s wearing a baseball hat, sure, one that he spent twenty-five dollars on to prove that his son plays on a team. He sports a weird strip of gray facial hair–really a stripe on his face like he’s some sort of model in Hustler magazine (only, you know, on his face) He has his hands in his pockets and is shuffling around on his feet, clearly freezing but unwilling to admit this to anyone–most of all himself. He tells everyone that he is all man.
He is talking with the other fathers, things about professional sports, things like “You see how terrible the Red Sox are this year,” or “The Phillies are looking great!” These other men all have some form of neatly trimmed facial hair, goatees and other circular grasps at fur as the scruff atop their heads blows away in the wind. (For myself, also gradually losing my hair, I am simply grubby and unshaven.)
The boys are warming up now as I sit upon a wet, freezing metal bleacher, the only one of the parents not standing. The rest seem to be readying themselves to be harsh east coast fans, more than simply demanding. They are angry. They want to be amused, entertained. More than anything they want to win. There is a mixture of shouts, all shouting the others down. One of the coaches–an arrogant know-it-all who does not appear to like children–shouts indifferent orders about “good throws and good catches.” (The head coach, this year, actually seems like a great guy–fun and fun-loving. He is no doubt a man who knows how to have a good time) This secondary coach is watching neither the throwing nor the catching. He stares into his cell phone, perhaps seeing if his afternoon rendezvous with his mistress has been cancelled due to rain.
More parents are gathering as many of the boys show up late (mom or dad’s fault, although none of them admit this.) Two people nervously uttered something about their kid taking forever, which is why they are late without having been asked. This is bad parenting. Some of these men are bad parents.
The mothers are an interesting mixture too. These are not the gymnastics moms (my daughter was once involved with this). Those mothers are every bit as harsh and demanding as the baseball, football and basketball fathers, and frequently much worse. They tend to hate the other parents, while the guys, at the very least, like to sullenly smirk around critics of a like mind. But the mothers at youth baseball tend to be either hyper-enthusiastic or utterly indifferent. The hyper-enthusiastic are insane, talking in a language that few people understand, involved with tactics and techniques, all in the most technical terms–speaking way over our heads, themselves once prime athletes too. Their kids tend to be the most talented players. These women, sometimes far too aggressively, seem to want to help everyone be better. The indifferent are just that. They sit there with younger children, teaching them to be disinterested in their sibling’s accomplishments, or merely staring into their phones throughout the entire game.
I just took five minutes to watch the coach with the boy who I guess is going to be their ace pitcher. The kid throws hard, although his range and accuracy are limited. The trouble here, however, has less to do with occasional wildness, and is entirely focused upon the non-stop jabbering of the man standing right behind him on the mound, giving directions even during the wind up. He is clearly annoying the boy, but is so funny and charming that you simply can’t be angry with him.
I walk over to the gathered fathers standing along the third base line and make a bland comment to one of them about the rain. He seems thrilled, all of the sudden, to have someone to talk to. He busily talks about his child, making sure that I know that last year he was an all-star. He tells me what a great pitcher his son is. He says I should keep an eye on his all season.
Another child is tubby, slow. He cannot catch. He cannot throw. I am certain that he cannot hit. The boy looks miserable. Some of the other kids–my son are mocking him. I am the only one to say anything, the boy’s father red faced. I call my son over. I ask him what is going on. My son says that the boy is very shy, and is probably the nicest person he has ever met, but that the other kids don’t want him on their team because he isn’t any good at the game.
My son is presently telling some of the others to stop. A few– the kids of the real fucking assholes, those in their Hummers and weekend Porsches–the bulk of them in expensive SUVs that they really don’t need–they refuse to let it go. Every third word out of their mouths is some form of ‘fuck.’ One of these 13 year old kids, apparently with the nodding approval of his father, talks about how he “finger fucked” his girlfriend “last night in the fucking basement.”
So the game has finally started and I go to socialize. I spoke with one of the dads for a while–one of those forgettable discussions about previous seasons and our cursory plans later in the day (my daughter gets a nice birthday dinner at some joint back home in the city.) Decent guy; right attitude. He does not take it too seriously, unlike most of the other parents, anxiously pacing around, calling out balls and strikes.
One guy–a real motherfucker, so harsh in this scrimmage towards his son that the boy walked off the field crying–seems to believe that his child’s team is all about himself. Winning is everything as far as he is concerned (this game is essentially preseason and does not count). This is the lesson he offers his son, a form of bitter aggression that will someday consume him when he has his own children to boss around. He, like so many others, is creating a monster.
One of the boys is superb. A slugger who sent the ball flying all the way over to the soccer field net in deep, deep center field, is also the most team-oriented, least arrogant–wait–my son is batting . . . 0-1, 1-1, 2-1, 2-2, ground out–the team star has a wonderful father. Here is a man who sacrifices himself for his children, like any parent is supposed to do, at least more often than not. He is encouraging, demands hard work, and realizes that not everything is about himself.
On the most part this is a pretty good group. There is the same arrogance, the same pettiness and selfishness that is tragically inevitable when kids are desperate to impress their watching parents. This is our competitive nature. I could go on and on and eventually trash every single one of them, pointing out the covered up stupidity of our manifest flaws, but I have presently decided against this. The skies are clearing and the sun has started to broil up the chilling wind. It looks as though it will be a lovely day after all. Besides–and what can I say, I am a long time fan–how bad could things possibly be? It’s the start of baseball season.