Playing Catch and Enjoying the Show

Charlie is playing with the regulation size basketball this summer. He is playing every chance he gets. We live across the street from his school where there are six hoops and two full courts on a patch of pavement where a group of neighborhood kids, the older ones, play a regular game of baseball. Charlie isn’t quite up to that game yet, but it won’t be long. It’ll be a different set of kids, different relationships, different ground rules, but essentially he will join them not too long from now. It was about three blinks ago that I was tossing gently the oversized wiffle ball underhand from a few feet away. It would hit his belly with a barely audible thud and shortly after he’d bring his hands together hoping to catch the ball that was already on the ground and rolling away from him. This morning we already tossed the softer but still relatively hard tee-ball ball for a half hour or so. Full speed, catching in gloves. That happened in the last couple weeks. Forget about hitting. I’ll never throw that boy another underhand pitch again. Haven’t for some time now.

I wasn’t much for baseball growing up. I was in fact rather anti baseball. I was a basketball player to the core. It was my first identity and one I will never fully abandon. I could go a decade without taking a shot and I’d always be a basketball player. A bit past my prime for sure. Rounder and slower. But so long as I have any control over my body I’ll be able to do something with a basketball to feel young and vibrant. It’s ingrained in me.

Teddy is not yet interested in sports. He may become an athlete and he may not. He loves his art classes and his dance class that he powered through for the entirety of the school year. Seeing him on stage with the rest fo his classmates at the recital at the end of the year was incredible. He was so nervous about it that for the weeks before everyone wondered if he’d be able to go through with it. But there he was, the ‘Tin Man’ dancing to ‘Ease on Down the Road’, hitting all his marks, even helping others. He was brave and graceful.

I so wanted to be that brave when I was little. My older brothers were in all the plays at school when I was Charlie’s age and I watched them so intently, wishing I could be up there. When they were done with their three day, four show run I’d collect the abandoned, worn scripts and read them cover to cover, over and over, reliving the story in my head for months. I loved Oklahoma so much that I went to the Seymour Library, nine years old, and would take out other Rogers and Hammerstein plays to read and imagine into existence as a production in my head. When I was of an age I was too self-conscious. I didn’t ever tryout. I wish I had his courage.

They aren’t ever going to be in strollers again. I’ve lived long enough to learn that parents are needed for a lifetime, but the need that they had before is gone. They need other things. They need someone to play catch with and casually chat about school friends and sports teams. They need a dad to take them to their dress rehearsal and talk about the music and where it came from and why its cool to be the only boy brave enough to be on the dance team. Sometimes they need a rebounder to feed them for endless shots at the playground hoop and tell them over and over how much better they are then when I was their age. Sometimes they just need me to get in the dirt and look for worms under the rocks.

Pennants, Rainbows and Love

imageI wasn’t a baseball kid. I wasn’t just not a baseball kid, I was anti baseball. It seemed to me to get so much credit for so little. Firstly, it was painfully slow to a kid with boundless energy. How could it be considered a sport when well over 90% of the time one was tasked with either standing still, walking or even sitting. Secondly, the ball was hard. Like really hard, and people threw it at you. Thirdly, it was filled with guys that looked ordinary. Basketball had Kareem and Magic and baseball had fat guys that pitched once every four games, sitting out the 3 in between. Nowadays it’s every 5 games. The Mets even experimented with a 6-man rotation this year! Finally, it presented itself as preeminent. It was self-evident that as the natinal pastime that  it was the ‘best’ sport. It wasn’t, not for me.

It even tried to boast about it’s groundbreaking nature and it’s role in social justice in regard to the accomplishments of Jackie Robinson. Are you kidding me! You have a ‘gentlemen’s’ agreement to ban black ball players for over 50 years and then one gets through, enduring the hateful bile of a fan base you created to be racist and you, baseball, get to take credit for the ‘transformation’ to an ‘integrated game.’ At least that’s what it seemed like to me.

As far as I was concerned baseball as an entity, Major League Baseball, should treat April 15th as a day of atonement. It was your institution, the league, the business that chose to enact and enforce unwritten rules to ban most non-whites and all black people. For more then half a century. Now you celebrate the annversary of the day as if MLB is part of the accomplishment while the only role it played was grudgingly resisting but ultimately allowing a brave man to better baseball’s station at the cost of near constant abuse. Well done, baseball. Take a bow.

To hear others speak of it when I was a kid, people who were around for it, black and white people, it’s as if it were the greatest accomplishment of the Amercian century. By far the most important moment in sports in our history. Which just didn’t resonate with me. I’d shrug it off and think, what the hell took you idiot’s so damn long.

Fast forward to June 26th, 2015. Sitting in my office I got an alert on my phone that tthe Supreme Court had ruled that Marriage equality was now the law of the land. Gay people now had the right to marry in all fifty states. I was and am elated. In my life we’ve gone from vilifying gay people, referring to ‘gay cancer’ as if HIV and AIDS were nature’s punishment, God’s judgment, legally classifying their love as illegal, because somehow we thought it was immoral. Being gay was classified as a mental illness until fairly recently. It’s silly. I should still realize that this was always absurd and that it was prejudice and stupidiity that made us such a backward society in regard to this subject for so long. But now I have context and I know that my country that has given me so  many reasons to be proud and so many reasons to be disheartened and upset still has the capaciity to change, to evolve, to make steps toward perfect. That, as much as the genuine joy and appreciation and admiration and excitement was what I felt. It makes me feel very patriotic.

Now, all that’s left is for me to celebrate this day in the future, to share with my kids the amazing and indescribable feelings of the day I lived through when America changed for the better  as a result of the tireless efforts of common citizens displaying uncommon courage for decades,  expressing their beliefs, asserting their truth, enduring unfairnesses and abuses, never giving up  and ultimately creating a better world for those to come. And when they don’t get it, when they don’t understand why it was such a big deal and why it took us so damn long to do the right thing I won’t have a good answer for them. I’ll be proud of a thing they won’t understand. I hope that acceptance will be the norm in their lives.  I’ll be proud of them and of us. I’ll be happy that they will grow up in a world where at least legally, hopefully, we’ve put this behind us.