Yes, I am still browsing through the same issue of Sports Illustrated. Sorry, but it has to wait until my People Magazine is completely consumed first and that can easily take a good 10, 12 minutes.
So I’m reading and I laugh — that sarcastic, self-righteous laugh — because I see a story about a 16-year-old baseball player from Las Vegas.
I am not laughing that self-righteous laugh because Sports Illustrated and Tom Verducci, a gifted writer l once worked with for one day on the staff of Today newspaper, chose to write the story on the fabulously gifted Bryce Harper.
Verducci, who was already on his way to sportswriting greatness when he graciously shared his going-away cake with me on his way out of Cocoa, Florida in 1983 en route to New York Newsday, and recently wrote The Yankee Years with Joe Torre, knows a great story like he knows a great baseball player. And this kid is clearly both.
But I laugh because I know that at precisely the same time I am reading the story, at least a couple thousand crazy parents of semi-talented eight-year-olds are also reading and envisioning similar scenarios for their kids.
I know this because I live in a place – it’s called America, maybe you’ve heard of it – where in the absence of more serious concerns in life or sometimes despite more serious concerns in life – there is a serious break from reality when it comes to children and sports.
Now granted when our 11-year-old son Alec won his baseball playoff game the other day, I found myself thrusting my fist so hard that my husband gave me a look that suggested I was one step away from becoming the kind of troubled parent I have read about in People Magazine.
Also, I will admit that when we found out last night that Alec made the travel soccer team again this year, thus granting us the privilege of writing out a check for $850, not including travel and uniform expenses, I was a little too relieved.
I am told that the $1,100 total is inexpensive compared to other suburbs and other sports but I don’t need to be told. And let’s not even discuss a sport like hockey.
I am now trying to picture my father paying over a thousand bucks for us to play sports, or even the $150 we pay for Alec to play house league baseball, and this makes me laugh as well.
But once again, I stray.
Recently, I watched as the father of a 10-year-old pitcher on an opposing team yelled for his son not to give the hitter “anything good,” and to pitch it “low and inside.”
Mind you, it’s a good night when Chicago White Sox pitcher Bartolo Colon can keep a pitch low and inside, and that the father yelled this with a straight face and a serious tone, and you will appreciate the hilarity of the moment. At least for me, anyway.
I also love the dad who’s as tall as he is wide, taking his seven-year-old’s dominance in pee-wee basketball as a sure sign that he’s headed to Duke.
When Bryce Harper was nine, Verducci tells us, he was recruited to play for travel teams all over the country who offered to pay his plane fare , hotel expenses and meals. He would go, sometimes alone when his parents could not accompany him, and for the past seven years he has played between 80 and 130 baseball games annually.
For the elite children athletes in this country, this is standard procedure and for kids like Bryce Harper, it helped him flourish. Harper, whom they call “the LeBron James of baseball,” has hit the longest home run in the history of Tropicana Stadium, the home park of the Tampa Bay Rays. But take it down a notch, to the kids who merely play 50 or 60 games a year, drive to the next state instead of flying cross-country and hit baseballs 200 feet as opposed to 500, and the odds of them getting any closer to Sports Illustrated than standing next to a newsstand, are infinitesimal.
Take it down a level further to the kids who play in the games I watch, and they would have a greater chance of getting hit by a meteor shortly after winning the lottery.
But I also know that SI article is pinned up in some kids’ bedrooms tonight. And worse, on some parents’ refrigerators.