DOWN THE LINE

baseball

When my parents first came to this country in 1964, there were many things that didn’t make sense to them, at first. My father would watch baseball in the hopes that, somehow, he would be able to understand the game. He grew up with soccer (futebol), tennis and bullfighting, but, with baseball, he had no idea why the batter would sometimes run to first, and, other times, he wouldn’t even leave the batters’ box. I would sit with him in our family room, and we would watch the Mets and the Yankees.

My mother spent an entire summer clipping coupons from the back of milk cartons, and she finally saved up enough for five tickets to a Mets game. We may have been in the cheap seats, but we didn’t care because we were there nonetheless. My siblings and I loved it; we ate crappy ball park hotdogs and overloaded on Cracker Jacks and soda.

I played one season of girls softball and loved it. My dad was a realist and told me that the teams were unfairly picked, the coaches knew nothing and I should stick to tennis. I did. I still watched baseball and fell in love with the Yankees. I felt the tragic loss of Thurman Munson, joy in every championship ring and truly believed they would win the World Series every year. I loved the tempo and rhythm of the game, but I especially loved the catchers. I believe that if you’re going to throw a 95 mph fastball at a batter, then you’d better take an at-bat, yourself. I loved the unwritten rules of the game and knew that an injustice would be righted right there on the filed by the players themselves.

Fast forward to the year we moved from Texas to Virginia. My kids played soccer and loved it. The teams were unfairly picked, and the coaches didn’t know much. However, the boys had fun. They played for two seasons, and then one day, the little kid up the block told my oldest that the local little league was looking for players. The ball park was built by none other than John Grisham and was a replica of Fenway Park. We signed up, and, you guessed it, the teams were unfairly picked, and the coaches played Daddy Ball. My sons fell in love with the game, though, and they never kicked a soccer ball again. I had grown up watching other people play, and now I was watching my own kids play.

We moved to Florida later that year and entered into the Baseball Hotbed of the Universe, where the sport is played 24/7 all year long. Talk about insanity… It takes a special kind of crazy to watch a bunch of 9-10 year olds play 7 innings in 90 degree heat with 100% humidity 3 times a week. I’m that crazy. Having two kids in baseball, I lived at the fields. I joined the baseball board and, through no choice of my own, found myself the Commissioner of the whole league: 600 kids, 1,200 lunatic parents and 60 umpires. I have been escorted from controversial meetings by deputy sheriffs, had my car keyed, been yelled at by manic mothers, threatened by out-of-control dads and even been accused of sleeping with a council member in order to influence a vote. Inside my head, I quit every day.

I was Concession Mom in High School and organized the fundraisers. I’ve put more miles on my cars getting food and Gatorades for the teams and driven with my sons’ smelly dogs and hoochie-mamma girlfriends. I’ve driven all through the night to get to my kid’s first collegiate start, sat through torrential downpours for 72 hours only to turn around and drive back home. I’ve housed prospects (minor leaguers), kids who couldn’t find another couch to crash on. I’ve had my son tell me that Matt was only staying for the weekend…that turned into two months.

I’ve taken heartbreaking phone calls in the middle of the night after a blown save and euphoric calls when the team qualified for regionals. I’ve sat through 3 days of drafts and prayed to any god to take my kid. I’ve seen a batter almost rip my kid’s face off with a piss-rod come-backer, and I’ve seen my kid bury a fastball in a batter’s ass.

I’ve refrained from keying a coach’s car, calling him names and punching out an obnoxious fan. I’ve watched my Yankees collapse to the dreaded Red Sox. I sobbed when Mariano Rivera faced his last batter and Derek Jeter and Andy Petitte took him off the mound. I actually rooted for the Cubs to win the World Series.

When people tell me that baseball is boring, I usually respond with, “Well, it’s actually a game for smart people.” Because of baseball, I’ve made some of the most incredible friendships and met some of the most decent humans. I’ve also made a few enemies and encountered some of the most colossal assholes, as well. But, through it all, baseball remains the most beautiful game to me. When people ask me why tennis isn’t my first love, I can’t really answer that. With four pros in my family, you’d think that my kids would play tennis. However, their love was, and still is, baseball, and I’m glad. As part of my job as a tennis coach, I have to sit through junior tennis matches, and I get hives. Yet, I sat through JR pitching at Tiger Stadium against LSU in the Regionals, and, while nervous, I could breathe. I watched Spencer pitch in front of thousands of nasty Gator fans with tons of scouts and press there and, while anxious, I didn’t throw up.

I’m first generation American. So, maybe it only makes sense that the daughter of immigrants found the American Pastime, and, later on, her kids got to college playing that very sport. And you know what? I love it.

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