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Thursday, September 6, 2012

Baseball and a Reality Check from My Son...

R.A. Dickey pitched a gem...
Last Friday, my wife and I took the kids to our first baseball game at the new Marlins Park, as a family.

The Marlins were playing my favorite team, the New York Mets, and since I already have my son rooting for the team I grew up cheering for, and I’m trying to cultivate his love for the game, my wife got tickets for us to go.

It was a wonderful time. We spent quality time laughing, eating and enjoying each others’ company.

We explored the new state-of-the-art stadium, looking for that perfect meal (so many choices!). My younger daughter and I shared a bag of peanuts (8 servings; I ate about 7 and a half!). I had to shell out $45 bucks for the obligatory Marlins baseball caps for the kids (that were on sale!). And, on a lesser note, we even watched the Mets win. So, it was a great overall night.

In the late innings, when they asked the crowd to make some noise to try to rally the home team (from a three run deficit), my 5-year-old son turned into one of those fans that you see at stadiums on TV.  You know the ones; shirtless with their faces and bodies painted and screaming at the top of their lungs.  It was as if someone put a coin in his slot. 

And, whatever he was screaming wasn't even discernible.  He was just making noise, as they asked for (He can be very obedient at times!).  It kind of reminded me of the sound the fat kid in The Goonies made when he saw the bald guy with one eye!  Some of the people around us had to turn around to see who the screaming kid was. My wife, daughters and I couldn’t stop laughing.

As a matter of fact, I honestly thought that he was going to hurt his vocal chords.  After telling him that he was going to lose his voice, he scoffed at me, “No I’m not!” and, just like that, he turned around and kept on  yelling, “Aaaaaaaaaa!!!.”

It was hilarious.

Seriously making some noise!...
As I watched his unbridled enthusiasm that night, I couldn't help but think that, maybe, although still early, he was starting to love the game that I love.

I think most men who have ever played organized baseball at one time or another (even if it was in little leagues) dream of their son playing baseball as well.

For me, it's not so much about trying to relive my youth (and frustrated playing career!) through him, as it is practicality. I would love it if he could earn a scholarship to play college baseball (Hopefully to a faithful Catholic school!).

But, first, I need to get him interested in the game.

I remember when I was four or five-years-old, just before leaving Cuba, sitting in front of my house and watching the kids on my block play baseball outside through our window.  They were all older kids and, I guess, they thought I was too young, so they never invited me to play (scarred me for life!).

I really didn't play until I got older and moved to the United States.

I have fond memories of those first years living in Port Chester, NY.  In between working long hours, like most new immigrants, to put my mom through college, send me to Catholic school and move us to a better neighborhood, my dad would often take my younger brother and me to the park, where he would hit us grounders and fly balls and pitch batting practice to us.

And, when my dad couldn't take us, I remember spending hours with my glove and a rubber ball bouncing the ball off the ground, it ricocheting off the garage door and bouncing back to me. I would pretend to be a big leaguer, play games in my head and developed my hand/eye coordination.

I actually got my first chance to play on a team at Corpus Christi Catholic School, when I was about nine-years-old and in third grade.  The coaches made me a pitcher.  

The Hammer with his cap in his pocket...
I played on the Corpus Christi Reds, whose no-frills uniform included a red school provided t-shirt, a red cap, which we used to fold in half and stuff in our back pockets while hitting and running the bases, like Yankee great Bobby Mercer (and Mets’ John "Hammer" Milner) used to do, blue jeans and sneakers.  But, to me, wearing it on game days was probably as exciting as playing.

Yet, as I look back at that time, what I think really drew me to the game, aside from playing (and my stylish uniform), was just watching and rooting for the Mets every night on TV with my mom, dad and brother, especially during the improbable 1973 pennant drive, where, led by Tug McGraw's (Tim's dad) battle cry, "You Gotta Believe," they went from fifth place to first in the last month of the season.

We even went to a couple of games at Shea Stadium (against the Montreal Expos and San Diego Padres) and one time, my dad got tickets from his boss and took me to a Yankee game at the old Yankee Stadium (against the Cleveland Indians).  It's amazing the things we remember!

So, by the time we moved to Miami, in the summer of 1974 (when I was 10), and started playing year-round, I was in love with the game and, until I got married and had children, it became the center of my existence!  (Although, my wife may argue it still is)

In any case, I would love it if my son develops the same passion for the game.  However, after spending about five years umpiring Little League games, during my teens, and watching the interactions between some fathers and their sons, I am very weary about forcing the game on him. 

Instead, I'm taking a more laid back approach and letting him decide when he wants to play.

Last summer was his first experience on a baseball diamond.  He attended a summer camp at school and, after camp, they offered baseball practice to the kids that wanted to stay.

He was by far the youngest boy on the field but the coaches, who are friends of mine and run a baseball school, said he was also the most enthusiastic.  He absolutely loved it. 

In fact, on the first day, when my wife went to pick him up, he started crying because he didn't want to leave and she had to go back to pick him up an hour later.

So, I can see the makings of a love for the game.

On Tuesday night, as the kids and I hung out in our living room, while my wife finished dinner, I tried to coax him and asked what he loves more than anything in the world; I was hoping he would answer baseball.

Instead, he turned away from me and, as he did a cartwheel on our leather ottoman, nonchalantly said, “God.”

Huh?  (Talk about keeping it real!)

Alright, so obviously there are some things that I'm teaching him that are more important than baseball...


Carlos Estrada said...

Amen! Your going it the right way!

Carlos Espinosa said...

Thank you, Carlos.
I figured if he loves the game, like I did, he's going to eventually force me to let him play.
God bless.