Note: This story was published in Prairie Times a few years ago.
Like Father, Like Son, Like Grandson
True American Sportsmen
When my husband was in eighth grade he played basketball at a private school. His teachers were very strict but made him what he is today, I’m pretty sure. But he also had a mom who was concerned with his grades. Three cheers for mom, right? But then she got a note from one of the strict teachers who informed her that basketball was endangering his grades. Big game coming up. Big tension in the house. Basketball lost to Mom and the teachers and one young boy was devastated. Many years later she told me about it because he never could.
Fast forward to our number one son, a baseball player. He truly loved this favorite American pastime as we did. He was a popular player and had his dad for a coach. What could be better? Many times he came through for Dad and the team and glory rose all ‘round. Until the day that has assumed the mantle of Casey at the Bat for us. Remember that old poem about the hero of Mudville? Until he struck out. All hopes were pinned on our son that day just as the hopes of Mudville were pinned on Casey.
“Get ‘em!” his teammates hollered. Lots of chatter from the outfield. My eyes and his brothers were all glued to our favorite batter. We just knew he could do it. He was a team player, and a good kid – who struck out. On the ride home our new maxi-van was barely able to hold the grief and this mother wanted to cradle her baby so badly and could not.
Pull the story into the present and another star has been born. Mr. Personality. The male heir. Funny, scary smart, and, best of all to Mom and Grandma, tenderhearted. Well, except when it comes to teasing his sister, but that’s a brother for you. It’s a kid thing. And then one summer our star faced a challenge that rocked our world. He had to absorb, cope, think about and rally against a perceived injustice. Tie score, worthy opponents(and a bit cocky), and a chance to break a tie to win against a team with no losses. It was beyond tense.
“You can do this, bud!” His mother yelled and I was so nervous for him I was speechless.
His grandfather was keeping score and I looked over to see him squirm in his fancy lawn chair. He rubbed his legs like he always does when he’s tense and excited.
Sam clobbered the ball and got to first. One man ahead of him on second and then the ball was clobbered again and they were off. Our boy rounds third like a locomotive and heads for home. Where chaos reined. Dust all over the place, an outfielder hum-chucking the ball for home plate. The player just ahead of Sam scoring, parents on their feet cheering, and the opposing team’s itty bitty catcher smack in the way. Sam’s way.
Do you know how hard it is to stop a locomotive? You do? Then you know Sam couldn’t stop. With every sense dedicated to scoring and his judgment on call, he spotted the prize and decided not to slide. He did not intentionally do it but he took the itty bitty catcher out at the knees.
CRASH! Down went the poor guy and outrage exploded.
On their side for the turtle-on-its-back catcher. On our side for Sam who was suddenly caught up in a melee that got him thrown out of the game and threatened with suspension. “Yer Out!” the umpire screeched. Just like Casey in Mudville. Our boy with a red face and Niagara Falls wanting to spill from his eyes on the humiliating walk to the dugout. And this time a mom as well as a grandma who could not cuddle their baby.
With all this drama and with a head full of memories all I can say is, there was more love in that van ride home than I’ve seen anywhere in a long time. And I’m sure there was the same on the ride home for the other team’s catcher. These were our boys, on both sides, needing every bit of understanding we could give them.
Some things are so hard. But our choice in the tough times is to rage on or to hope. And for our family’s part, we went with hope. You won’t fail if you aren’t out there playing, but you won’t win, either. In the true spirit of American sportsmanship we keep on trying and hoping.
Image: Free Digital Photos