I love spring, especially when it's accompanied by a decent Red Sox team.
Baseball is my favorite sport. I played Little League and Babe Ruth as a kid, as well as countless pick-up games with my older brother and anywhere from one to six of the Keegan brothers who were our best friends growing up. The boys ranged in age from 3 years younger than me to 10 or 12 years older.
On the cusp of turning 40, I decided to try playing again, after 25 years away. I tried out for an over-40 league in Boston, got picked for a team based out of Quincy, and for the next five years had a great time reliving my youth. Sure, I got hurt a few times, and my team wasn't that good, but I had a blast.
I left baseball behind when my son, Owen, decided he might want to try Little League. He and I had been playing quite a bit of front-yard whiffle ball at that point, and I told him he should make the move to baseball.
He was unsure, though, until I told him I would help coach his team. So, in the spring of 2010, he made his debut on the diamond, and I made my debut behind the bench.
I co-coached with a great guy named Bruce, and between the two of us, along with a handful of helpful dads, we had a fun and somewhat productive season. I couldn't have been happier that Owen was playing alongside some of his friends. It just felt good to be out there on the field, teaching the game to a new generation.
Owen skipped summer ball that year, but played in the fall. There are fewer teams for fall ball, which meant there wasn't one for me to coach. Owen landed on a team helmed by the fathers of two of his classmates. I was more than happy to watch from the sidelines. Owen struggled at the plate, but made some plays in the field and had a good time.
He played again in the spring of 2011, once again coached by other dads. His interest was flagging, but he stuck with it. He and I continued to play whiffle ball in the yard.
He decided to try summer ball that year, and once again I offered that I would help coach. As it turned out, I ended up as head coach, which wasn't the position I was hoping for. I knew Owen's interest was a bit low, so I'd wanted to just help out, in case he decided to drop out.
Two dads whom I'd never met before coached the first two games, because we were on vacation. After that, either one or both of them showed up to help out. Our team was definitely a bit like the Bad News Bears. Some of the kids had never played baseball before; others, like Owen, weren't that into it. And a few enjoyed playing, but would whine and complain if they didn't get to pitch, or play the position they wanted.
We had one girl on our team, and like in "Bad News Bears," she was one of our best players. She only played half the season, however, before going away for the summer.
The season ended on a low note, as I couldn't get Owen to attend the final game with me, and we only had 6 or 7 players.
It's been almost two years since Owen last played baseball. But we have continued, somewhat regularly, to play whiffle ball in our front yard. This season, the dynamics have shifted.
Owen, who's almost 11, has gotten bigger and stronger, and can now pummel most of the pitches I throw. Granted, I'm not bringing my "A game" from the mound, but it's cool to see him getting better.
We've also been joined by a few neighborhood kids, which means that I often get to take a break and hang out with adults in the neighborhood.
A few weeks ago, after playing with a few of these kids, Owen said to me, "We should have a neighborhood whiffle ball game."
"What a great idea!" I told him. So we sent out an Evite, and this Sunday we'll gather on a field at a former school across the street from our neighborhood, and play with kids and grown-ups from our road and nearby streets.
I'll admit that I was bummed when Owen lost interest in playing baseball. I envisioned going to his games, eating snack shack burgers and commiserating with the other parents about how the team was doing. I imagined watching him develop into a better player, having loads of fun and learning about teamwork.
But that didn't happen.
He likes whiffle ball, and watching the Red Sox with me, both of which are great things, especially since I know it won't be long before he moves on from these as well.
I'm just so proud of him for coming up with the idea for a neighborhood game. He worked with me on picking an Evite template, and putting together the invite list. He's got ideas about how the game should go, and he's excited by all of it.
He's growing up, which I find both exciting and frightening (because it means I'm getting old). While baseball didn't turn out to be the sport he wants to play, he has been taking part in a youth track club at the YMCA, so maybe that's something he'll pursue.
No matter which direction he goes, I'll be right behind him. Just one more thing....