Summer is almost over, but I will take a break from my usual topics and themes to look back on what has been a highlight of this summer: my two sons’ discovery, and my rediscovery, of baseball. The Borins boys are nine and six, ideal ages for picking up a new sport.
Our turn to baseball was multi-faceted.
First, we got gloves, a bat, and a softball, and we started practicing, either at a nearby baseball diamond or on the lawn. I was pitching at a distance of about 20 feet. We were also playing catch, and I would throw grounders, fly balls, and line drives. It was wonderful watching the boys learning how to connect with a pitch, or how to position themselves to catch a fly ball. As I was both pitcher and fielder, they often blasted the ball past me, but I occasionally had the thrill of catching a hot line drive at twenty feet. (“Dad, you’re cheating!”)
Second, we started watching baseball games. This has been a miserable year for the Jays, so we’ve experienced our share of frustration. The worst was a game that my younger son and I attended, where the Jays were leading the Devil Rays 9-1 in the seventh and ended up losing 10-9. Still, we have occasionally seen the Jays win convincingly (for example 14-8 over the Yankees last Sunday) and have watched many well-executed plays.
Third, we’ve been reading about the history of the game and talking about its complex rules and the strategies that coaches use. There is a wealth of books for children, as well as visual material, such as Ken Burns series for PBS. The history of baseball, of course, mirrors the social history of America. The life stories of Satchel Paige and Jackie Robinson are metaphors for the Black experience, just as those of Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax speak to the Jewish experience.
For a child to make sense of the rules and practices of baseball is a tremendous mental exercise; baseball really is the sport of intellectuals. So I have been busy explaining sacrifice bunts, relief pitcher substitution, why lefties don’t play in the infield, and how an unassisted triple play could happen. And, as luck would have it, baseball experienced one of only fifteen unassisted triple plays in its history this summer. We’ve also begun to get into the statistics of batting averages, earned run averages, and on-base percentages. And while we’ve read a book recounting Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, I haven’t yet tried to demonstrate Stephen Jay Gould’s proof that it never should have happened in the first place.
What are we now looking forward to? At this point, we’d like to see the Jays put out of their misery and the playoffs begin. We will happily shift our loyalties to more successful representatives of the American League East, likely the Yankees but possibly Boston.
And, for next year, as the boys get bigger and stronger, I hope that – if they want – they will outgrow their dad’s version of sandlot ball and get involved in games with their friends or perhaps in Little League. We hope to delve deeper into baseball history, strategy, and statistics.
And, finally, for the Blue Jays – our home team – there is always next year.