Monday, March 29, 2010

The Boys (and Girls) of Summer

Spring has finally sprung, and with it the usual spring athletics and the forthcoming summer sports, which have entered the training phase. A friend's daughter is taking lessons to become both a pitcher and catcher for league softball. I weighed in with my advice about playing catcher, which is my old position- and succeeded in spooking the mother a little bit.

I judiciously left out the gory details about the three times I got clocked with a bat- one of those was a sandlot game and I wasn't wearing any gear. I could see the ball coming in high and outside, registered the batter's swing, but miscalculated her pivot; as I eased up out of the crouch, she caught me across the head with an aluminum bat, which makes a distinct, shrill ping when it contacts something. I heard the ping, then a gong-like sound...and then, nothing. That particular incident rendered me deaf for two days and raised the concern that it might become permanent. Fortunately, it didn't, but I have a residual fear of losing my hearing. After that I also refused to play in any games, anywhere, if I wasn't going to be provided with catching gear.

As a catcher, I was also cleated and the equivalent of full-body tackled on numerous occasions by folks who didn't want to be tagged out. The most aggressive cleating incident left gouges in my leg...and that was a summer fun league! If I'd been any good and tried to play competitive ball, well, that can be a lot worse, depending. I managed my sister's minor and Babe Ruth teams for about three years, and often as not, there were coaches who encouraged a degree of meanness that would make the Marquis de Sade proud. Little Sister played shortstop, which is fairly dangerous when there are pushy base-runners. She got hit numerous times, but was also known for her grit and refusal to get out of the way of much larger, far stronger girls.

Most of this was in aid of our father's former career as an NCAA D-1 baseball player. He was good, and in fact, he was scouted by the Chicago Cubs before he quit the team to focus on his sagging chemistry grades. He was a three-letter athlete and let's just say that I was a huge disappointment in that area...the only things in which I lettered were Academic Team and band. My sister, though, was a naturally gifted athlete who was encouraged through expensive, out-of-town gymnastics lessons, parentally-supported league softball, peer-inspired golf, and the odd round of tennis lessons. She ran cross-country and a leg of the 440 relay for about a year until she lost interest. Meanwhile, Dad was about to blow a gasket because his resident jock wasn't interested in team sports.

I don't think that children's league sports are necessarily that dangerous, and it's statistically proven that girls, especially, who participate in extracurricular activities have a brighter future than their less-involved peers. It's just my hope that the stage mothers and bleacher coaches don't drive their children to participate even if they aren't that good at it or don't really want to do it. That extends not only to sports, but also to forcing your children to conform to other unreasonable or unrealistic expectations related to school or their social lives. If dealing with that were a sport, I'd hold a high-degree black belt in it.

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