In Defense of Baseball. And Irony, I guess. OR, the practical exact opposite of Wordless Wednesday

I got a tiny bit head-bitey this morning while responding to Nan's comment on yesterday's post. I sent the reply, then felt kind of upset and wondered if Nan and I were still going to be friends - I've never broken up with a virtual friend before, but I was feeling just as icky as I do when arguing with a real-life one. Then I figured we'd probably work it out, and then I wondered why her comment stung so much. I know she doesn't like organized sports. Do I not routinely bitch about organized sports, I ask myself? Self, I admitted, I do. My friend Zarah comes to visit every summer, and we usually get together once with another woman who's been friends with Zarah and my husband since before university. This woman is very athletic, and over one dinner she said she thought organized sports were wonderful and kids who didn't play them really missed out on something. Zarah found this offensive. I found it amusing.

My sister and I didn't play organized sports, beyond a little soccer when she was pretty young. My parents came from the prairies and the wilderness of extreme northern Ontario, and they weren't familiar with them or disposed to encourage us to play them. My husband, on the other hand, played hockey, often competitively, from the time he was very young. Should we have gone ahead and procreated without discussing the implications of this? Perhaps not.

I still don't really love watching hockey, even when my son's playing it. I do enjoy the fact that he's progressed, and it is entertaining to see the same kid who used to skate over and try to help kids from the opposite team up when they'd fallen go after someone for the puck in the corner. But it's kind of just a big jumble of kids for the most part, and if I can't see his number sometimes I don't even know which one is mine. And it takes up a good part of our week-ends all winter, since there's a game or a practice every Saturday and Sunday.

But baseball is different. We stumbled into it - I don't even remember what happened, there was a sign up somewhere, he'd hated playing soccer the last summer, we thought we'd give it a shot...

The spring season is May and June, and it's two games a week, which is pretty intense when the kids are still in school. In the first year of rookie, the kids hit the ball off a tee. Nobody can catch, the throws are all over the place, several of them skip the bases instead of running. They all want to play backcatcher because you get to wear the cool equipment, and then they can't see anything and they stumble around and the ball bounces right off them, assuming they ever get near it. Each at-bat ends when the team has gotten five runs in or there are three outs. In early rookie, we've been in many tight twenty-five to twenty-five games. It's pretty adorable, actually.

Then they play a second year, and some of them also play in the summer. The level of play starts to go up, because they play so many games. The first time a kid on a team catches a pop fly is magical, and hilarious - the whole park goes silent, and the kid usually looks like he's thinking 'holy crap! Was that supposed to happen?' Some kids start to pull away from the pack in ability, and some still have no clue what's going on - which is fair, because I've been involved in five or so seasons and I still don't know all the rules. What's nice is, for the most part, as excited as people get when one of the good kids hits a home run, everybody gets just as excited, if not more so, when someone who hasn't gotten a hit all season finally gets one.

On the whole, I've been really impressed with the families and coaches we've been in contact with. To be fair, it's not all sunshine and sunflower seeds - one coach had to step down one year because, well, he was a douchebag who cared more about winning than teaching the kids he was coaching about sportsmanship - AND THEY WERE SIX. And our friends had their summer ball coach politely suggest that they withdraw their kids one season because they were going to pull the team down (which is most definitely NOT the spirit the League advocates, although unfortunately the family didn't find this out until much later). But most of the coaches are exemplary - and I include my husband in this - about trying to instill some discipline and sportsmanship while still making the game fun for the kids. So yes, they are asked to sit on the bench while waiting to bat without too much yelling/hitting/wrestling/throwing, and yes, they are asked to be focused and ready to play their positions when they're in the field, but they're always praised for their efforts, whether they're successful or not, and they always get freezies or rice krispie squares at the end. One year my husband and his co-coach read jokes from a 100 Stupidest Jokes book instead of running drills to warm up before playoffs. If a player struck out at bat, he had to smile or else he was made to smell a baseball sock that hadn't been washed since the beginning of the season when he got back to the bench.

It's true that they are asked to sit or stand still sometimes when they don't want to - maybe even when it's practically impossible to, or feels like it. But I really see a real sense of satisfaction when any part of the team suddenly puts it all together and things start working like they're supposed to.

It turns out (and no one is more shocked than I am) that my son is an ultra-uber-crazy good baseball player. This has done wonders for his confidence, which was sorely lacking when he started playing at age six. When he started he was on a team that pretty much carried him, and since then he has been on teams where he was by far the best player, and ended up helping out the less-experienced ones. I feel like it's taught him a lot. My daughter is decidedly NOT a scary good baseball player, and she really likes it too (well, not at the moment, but generally). She's the only girl on the team, which hasn't been a barrier to her being accepted at all (there's also a funny story about my friend's daughter Rachel's team, and the time about halfway through spring ball when all of a sudden the word went around the bench that "Psst! Hey! Rachel's a GIRL!").

Holy crap, longest post ever. About baseball. Which is a sport. How strange. I could go on, but I won't. Anyway, these are my thoughts on why I really like Little League Baseball and why I thought I was kind of justified in telling the boys to stop kicking the gravel. And Nan - it's just what I believe, I'm not bothered if you have a dissenting opinion - except a little, at first. I'm trying to grow.


Pam said…
Adorable picture of your two kids at bat! You have to keep them in such sports just for the photo ops. Nicely done on the long sports related post. You are growing.
You already know that I don't think you sounded bitchy or whatever about the boys in that post. I am not a huge fan of organized sport - probably because I am total crap at them and it never really occurs to me that other people enjoy them until they tell me they do and I'm always a little surprised.

Anyway, I don't think there's anything wrong with expecting children to wait their turn patiently, or stop kicking dirt, or stand up on base. It's the same type of expectation as being in school, or eating in a restaurant, or many other things. Kids don't always want to do that. I get it. I understand it. But that doesn't mean they shouldn't be expected to follow the rules. Rules are for safety, and learning respect. They can still run around and act like crazy wild kids at other points in time. I think that's totally reasonable.

And you wrote a comment on my blog that I didn't agree with. We're still friends. I'm sure the same is with Nan. :)
Nicole said…
My kids play soccer. COMMUNITY soccer. It's all-inclusive; at the U8 level and above they have "evaluations" so that a team isn't totally rigged with all the ringer players. The first year Mark played he didn't touch the ball once. But he told me he loved soccer more than anything. The next year I think he got two goals in nine weeks. This year, he's blossomed into one of the average players! Yay average. Jake is only in his second year, I hope he moves up from "poor" to "average" next year.

Both of my kids love it which is why I freeze my ass off twice a week for nine weeks, watching them display (average-to-poor) skills.
Betsy B. Honest said…
Sometimes I let my kids kick gravel, sometimes I insist that they do not.

Sometimes I feel judged by other moms. Sometimes I feel supported by other moms.

Sometimes I give a shit what people think of my decision to let my kids kick gravel or not, sometimes I don't.

It seems to be related to hormones, how much sleep I've had, and how recently I've spoken on the phone with one of parents.
Ms. G said…
As the mom of two former awesome softball players and one outfield daisy picker, I say, It's good for them. And I used to just cheer when someone hit or came into home-clueless the rest of the time.

They shouldn't kick the gravel. They could put someones eye out ; )
Alicia said…
I say good for you for giving your children the opporunity to participate in something that they enjoy, even if it isn't something that you would exactly pick for them. What is the big problem with organized sport? Children learn extremely important life skills from participating. I could almost argue that they should be mandatory...When I tell other parents that my son (2 years old) already loves hockey they say "oh, that's expensive" or "oh, it's so violent". It's not about that, the benefits far outweigh some of the negatives, as with many other things in life. And if he loves hockey and excels at it, why would I hold him back? What is that teaching him?
Gwen said…
I'm sorry your feelings were (initially) hurt. That has happened to me, too. And it sucks. But don't break up with Nan, she's cool... and funny! :)

I like organized sports and played them for years and years. My children have NO athletic ability and have "issues with authority" (ie they prefer to be the boss and not so much the bossed). Organized sports are good for the kids who do well in that environment, and not so good for those who don't. Your kids seem to be doing beautifully, and that's all that counts.
Bibliomama said…
No no - I was afraid she was going to break up with me. For being head-bitey. She's cool and funny and likes Star Trek and homeschools her kids without killing them. Frankly, I stand in awe.
Amber said…
I'm not anti-organized sports, I'm just scared of them. Makes me nervous. My kids are too young still (gulp) but the idea of watching them out there with my heart in my throat. Yikes! So stressful! I enjoy your sports posts actually, they desensitize me a bit just in case my boys wind up being interested in something. It sounds like your kids are GOOD at sports though. I think that makes a huge difference. Too early to tell, but my boy doesn't seem all that coordinated. With two geeky parents I don't think athlete is coded anywhere in his genes.

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