We are approaching the zenith of Little League baseball season. We might in fact be, right now at at peak baseball. There were four games in six days this week, plus a practice that Dash had to miss. It’s lucky the kids are dedicated, because if you had a child who wasn’t really into the sport, they’d have just sat down and said feck it a while ago now.
Not actually feck it, because Americans don’t say that. This sucks, maybe.
Our Little League field is at the end of a tiny road that looks, from the other end, just like any other road in our suburban idyll. It has an electronic scoreboard that almost always works, two sets of metal bleachers for spectators, and two portapotties that are quite well serviced. There’s a little shed called the Snack Shack, where you can buy freeze pops for a quarter, cans of Coke for a dollar, bubblegum for a dime. They grill burgers and hot dogs too, during games, for a very reasonable price. It’s all manned by the parents of whichever team is deemed “home” for that game (note: all the teams are at home; they just take turns being called the guest), and run by the board of volunteers who oversee the whole league.
Behind the field there are batting cages where the teams can practice, and a basketball court as well. The whole thing is ringed by trees, and right on the other side of the trees the Baltimore-Washington Parkway meets the Beltway with a dull drone and the occasional motorbike’s roar. An eagle soared overhead this morning as the dust kicked up from the gravel and the sand. The sun’s heat soaked into the bleachers and Mabel’s skirt was too short for her to sit on the metal. We went back to the car for a blanket and spread it under the tree where most of the other spectators were already ranged. A couple of other children joined us. We knew them, sort of.
As soon as we get there, every time, Mabel starts badgering me for something from the shack: a freeze pop, a ring pop, a bag of chips, a hot-dog bun, a bottle of water. I make her wait because I know she’ll want something else a minute later: at the end of this inning, I say; when the batting is over; after your brother has had his turn; when somebody scores a run. When it’s half past. Go play on the swings. Find a friend. Don’t sit on me, you’ll just make us both hotter.
Dots appear on the scoreboard, counting strikes and balls, three and you’re out, four for a walk. Wipe the sheet, start again. Top of the second. Bottom of the third. “Good eye”, we say to the batter who knows when not to swing. “Good slice,” we say if the ball glances off the bat, living to fight another day. “Good pitch,” when we’re not batting but fielding, so our pitcher is the one looking for someone to swipe at their balls or miss their strikes. “Hustle!” when he’s nearly tagged out on the way to the plate. “Good hustle” when he runs fast enough.
I learned the lingo from the team dads. They stand at the fence, close to the field, not as far away as we are on the bleachers or under the tree. They are tall, imposing, with deep, molasses voices. One wears a fluorescent jacket, as if he’s working on the roads or riding a bike in the dusk; another is always impeccably natty. They shout directions, exhortations, to their own kids, but they shout encouragement to everyone’s. They know all the names, even when all the players look the same in a uniform and under a helmet. I get to know them by their socks, the length of their trousers, the way they twiddle their bats before they swing. If someone has new socks I’m lost.
The parents are a mixed bunch, and I say that consciously, as one of them. A mix of ethnicities, pretty representative of the neighborhood: more Black than white, not many Asians, a few Hispanics. Pregnant moms supervising tots on the playground while the game goes on; older moms who know the ropes, watching their last-born in Little League while their first plays varsity at high school. Tattooed dads in muscle tees, clean-cut dads in button-down shirts even at the weekend. Dads who are coaches, in team t-shirts and baseball caps. Coaches whose own kids are long past Little League but who keep coming back for “one more season.” Coaches who teach the kids so much more than how to pitch and catch and bat: sportsmanship, being a gracious winner and a good loser, showing up and trying your best even when you’re hot and tired, for no return but the thrill of a good catch even if you lost the game, an RBI though you were caught out yourself, a free soda from the snack shack when it’s all over.
Good game, well done, good game.