I Don’t Know’s On Third
First baseball game of the season. Machine pitch for the 9-year-old boys means a high scoring, high action game. Bottom of the 5th. Catcher is setting into place. First batter taking practice swings. My son’s team is in the field, facing the plate, knees bent, still and ready. My son is at third base. And he is dancing.
He’s not literally moving rhythmically to music in his head. He is practicing. Mimicking what he will do when the batter grounds to third. He will catch the ball and throw to first. But he is not putting his glove in the dirt and then pretending to throw to first. He is darting his glove straight out in front of him and then whipping a straight side-arm motion with his other arm. So it looks like ‘glove out ‘stop!’ gesture, hop, other arm swing around with a sideways hip twist.’ Once and again, once and again. As if in rhythm.
He may not be the best player on the team, and by a lot. But I do not care. Really I don’t. Picture the most obnoxious and demanding dad yelling at his son to crush his enemies, and I am the polar opposite of that. I want him to have fun, to be a good sport. All I ask of him is that he tries – that he shows the other boys, the coach, that he’s doing his best. He is a nice boy. A gentle boy. And to be his father is pleasure in its purest form. He does not insult the other team. He does not make excrement jokes in the dugout. He sometimes even tries to chat with opposing players when on base.
At this moment, I know he’s nervous. He is terrified of the ball in general, and he loves to play right field because he sees almost no action there. But the rules say that each boy must play at least one inning in the infield. And so here he is in the 5th at third base. His practice tells me he is nervous. But he wants to show the other boys that he is ready. That this is what he will do with speed and fury when called upon to do so. He wants to show he’s got the moves down. And so he is dancing.
The inning begins. He plays toward shortstop, as coached. He runs to his base and turns with his glove out to catch a throw, every play, whether a runner is on second or not. For, that is the third baseman’s job. Then, there is a force play at third. I speak up from the dugout, “Marco! Force play at third! Marco!” He notices me. “Force play at third!” He nods with surety. As if he knows what I mean. I so very much hope he knows what I mean. The coach yells “Marco, if you get the ball, step on third base!” He nods again. I am not reassured.
Then a solid hit to third. Ground ball, one bounce, coming at him hard. I know he will raise his glove, side-step, and leave the retrieval to the fielder. And he does not catch the ball, but he uses the back of his glove to knock the ball to the ground. And it works. He has stopped the ball. Parents cheer. The coach yells ‘good job, Marco! You kept a single from becoming a double!” My son nods again. As if he knows. He did not catch the ball. He did not step on third. But he acted. He tried. And I could not be more proud.
Next inning, bottom of the 6th, he is happily back in right field, behind first base. I look over toward him and realize I must position myself where he can hear me without having to yell so loudly that everyone notices, because he is standing out there, his glove on his head like a hat, karate punching the air.