His son’s starting Little League combines Mike Dittelman’s love of baseball and his son.
Yesterday was my 5 year old son’s first-ever Little League baseball practice, and I’m not sure who was more excited, me or him.
From the moment he woke up yesterday, he was asking, “Do we have baseball today, Daddy? On THIS DAY?”
It was incredibly adorable.
We are prone to romanticize baseball moments, particularly those between fathers and sons. The “schmaltzy” tendency of our movies to portray baseball as part of the fabric of America, purposefully tugging at our heart strings to elicit emotion, is well-documented and oft-discussed. But yesterday, watching my boy throw, attempt to catch, and run the bases, I experienced the genuine feelings it first-hand: I was smiling ear-to-ear, so happy to see my son out on the ballfield.
My other two children (ages 10 and 8) don’t – and didn’t want to – play Little League. They both play basketball, and it’s fun to watch them. They hustle on the court, they chase after the ball, and they attempt to maneuver away from defenders to get a good shot at the basket. It’s cute, it’s good exercise, but in some respect, it’s a bit of “survival of the fittest.”
Basketball’s fine for them, and with me too. In fact, I’ve been playing basketball – both in organized leagues, and pick up – since I was young, and continue to play regularly as an adult. But while the game of basketball holds a special place (and takes up a lot of space!) in my psyche, it just doesn’t conjure the same emotion, the same romantic feelings, nor the same type of childhood memories as baseball.
Perhaps the difference is based on the nature of the games:
Basketball is the ultimate team sport. When playing, I rely on teammates to either get me the ball, or to help me “shake loose” from a defender while on offense. On defense, we help each other in attempting to stop the other team from scoring.
Baseball is a team sport too, but with very much individualized and compartmentalized activities: Standing at bat, it’s an effort in finding individual success (“hit the ball where they ain’t”). Teammates aren’t going to help hit the ball beyond the infielders. Out in the field, if/when the ball is hit your way, you need to catch it or chase it down and get it to the appropriate base, depending on the game situation. Teammates aren’t going to help you – physically – to make the catch, make an accurate throw, or run to the ball.
Perhaps it’s the individual successes on the baseball field that help us develop confidence, with persistence, and understanding that most of the time – in baseball, and perhaps in life – you won’t get a hit, get on base, or find success.
Growing up, my brothers teased me endlessly about my baseball futility.
In Little League, I was far from the best player, and more towards the middle of the pack in terms of ability. In my first few years (after tee ball, with live pitching), I struck out much more often than I hit the ball. Yes, I had a few shining moments (like an inside-the-park home run, which was really a single with a few throwing errors) and a few timely key hits over my years of playing baseball. But most of the time, I was a sure and easy out with a bat in my hand.
And as an adult, things haven’t changed much. In my Sunday morning softball league, I bat close to the bottom of the order (a sign of the hierarchy of ability). But once in a while, I “get ahold of one,” and hit it into the gap for an extra base hit. In the field, where I’m often placed in Center Field (ok, right center field), I’ve made a few running, sliding, diving catches of hard-hit line drives. But most of the time, I chase down the balls that have been hit either over my head, or well past me.
So no, I’m not very good. Yet still, I love to play, and I love the game.
Whatever it is, it is baseball that holds that special emotional place for me.
Standing and watching my 5-year old son’s first ever baseball practice yesterday was a joy not only because I love the game – and love my son, obviously — but also because it marked the beginning of a rite of passage, playing baseball, learning about life, and standing on his own both in the field and at home plate, ready to run.
Photo Credit: Associated Press/File