It ended with a single, a grounder in the infield that the other kids couldn’t field efficiently enough to throw my son out at first. Some might have called it an error, except when the players are four feet tall or so, you don’t call anything an error.
It ended with a good feeling, which was something that seemed far from assured not long before.
There was no press conference, but if you check the transactions wire, you’ll see the news. My 6-year-old has retired from baseball.
This was my son’s third season of playing baseball — T-ball, to be more precise, in 2009 and 2010, and coach-pitch this year. I’ve occasionally written about it in the past. There’ve been moments, but it’s never been a sport that he has really enjoyed.
His attitude at practices has mostly been good, considering that he’s not really into the game. But he almost never wanted to play when he didn’t have to. He would have liked to have been better at it, but he didn’t care enough to make the effort to do so, no matter how fun I tried to make it. One of the ongoing mysteries of parenting: not just when to push, but how to push.
It’s entirely possible that my passion for baseball weirded him out from it, though it’s also entirely possible that he wanted to like the game but just couldn’t make himself do so. It was telling, I think, that his favorite part of practice this year was at the very end, when the coaches just had the kids in a glorified game of pickle, and all he had to do was run around like a crazy man.
In the games themselves, his favorite thing to do was to hit, but he really, really struggled at it, and for much of this season, he got worse as it went on. At first, he was making contact, but it would seem like a fluke because his stance was a mess, even by 6-year-old standards. So we’d try to work with him on his stance, but he was very resistant to instruction – prideful, perhaps, or just not wanting to feel pressured into doing something.
So things evolved to where his natural but ugly stance evolved into an unnatural and even uglier stance. It was like a visual representation of angst. Everything was off, and it couldn’t have been more uncomfortable. There was one practice where he swung and missed at more than 20 pitches in a row. Even if you don’t dream of growing up to be Hank Aaron, that’s disheartening.
He is so much fun and has so many other interests. He does well in first grade. My wife and I agreed that three seasons of this game were enough if it wasn’t something he wanted to do. And my feeling was, if he ever decided, two or four or 10 years from now, that he wanted to try again, he’d make so much faster progress once he cared than he would if we kept sending him out there with nothing but a little kid’s stiff upper lip.
So we put the choice to him last month: We were going to finish out this season, but if he wanted to play again next year, it would be his call.
“Hooray!” he exclaimed.
That left the remaining week of the 2011 schedule — and then, another week. See, we thought his final game would be before Memorial Day, but it turned out that there was a makeup game that would be played afterward. So just when everyone thought he had played his final game, another unfulfilling one, there was actually another.
Here’s what happened. In the final two at-bats of his season and maybe his career, his stance all of a sudden came together. It looked like a little boy’s stance should look. And instead of missing each pitch as he so often had, he hit the ball — hit it pretty well, all things considered.
And I was just so happy for him that he could walk away from the game — for the moment or forever — on his own terms, with that feeling that he could do it if he wanted to. An early Father’s Day present, now that I think of it.
When he crossed home plate for the final time, we packed up his gear, grabbed his team photos and dashed off to rehearsal for his piano recital the next day, with camp, swimming and all kinds of summer fun ahead of him.
The craziest thing of all: All this experience has taken place before his seventh birthday. When I turned 7, I hadn’t yet played in a baseball game in my life.