By Sunday, they sit in weary clumps, their well-worn bag chairs lined up alongside still another battlefield as they exchange tales of their latest mission — of surviving the elements, of travelling great distances, of late-night sessions with the washing machine.
Five games in one day, seven in two, they tell you, and you suspect some embellishment taking place. But you’ve been around this particular block far too long not to know it’s mostly true. For us, mere amateurs with just one child athlete in the family, there were just three games in 20 hours – one soccer game sandwiched by two baseball.
Some sniff at you as if you’ve taken the weekend off, setting their Starbucks in their respective cup holders without taking their eyes off the field.
Little Johnny is at bat.
And this is serious business.
You try to remember when this all started. Well before your own marriage but after your childhood. My husband tells of throwing his baseball glove over the high-rise handlebars of his red Schwinn Stingray and pedaling off to his Little League games alone or with a pal.
During the week, the dads would straggle in straight from work, still wearing their suits, in the late innings. This, of course, except for the one dad lucky enough to have an understanding boss or his own business and thus, could don his sweatshirt and whistle and be there by 4:30.
Moms were scarce during the weekdays, usually home with the other kids or making dinner or coming home from their own jobs. And no one thought this strange.
Spectators sat in the bleachers on their respective sides or — so as not to get their suits all dusty — stood behind the backstop telling their kids to keep their eye on the ball, even as they were taking their minds off it.
They yelled at coaches and umpires and kids back then, too. Got dirty looks also, but kids weren’t seeking therapy as a result. That came later.
There were no trainers, no fall ball, no travel teams. Kids showed up for the first day of practice having not played all year. They came without individual bat bags and batting gloves and personalized helmets.
They played their season at the same neighborhood park and then retreated into the freedom of summer vacation, where games spontaneously popped up and teams formed with the happy disorganization of youth, the very exercise preparing them for the day when those skills might actually be useful.
If you were picked last, it stunk. But no one ran home to tell their mothers, and if they did, retribution was swift. You played because it was fun and not because your parents were sure a scholarship was in your future. And when you reached first on a weak grounder and error, you did not have grandparents, uncles, cousins and assorted neighbors there to applaud you and tell you how very special you were.
Girls were left out of the equation altogether until about 1974, post-Title IX. And that stunk, too. We were left to press our noses up against the chain-link fences, knowing we had better arms than the boy playing third base but that no one would ever know.
But our brothers knew. And the neighbor boys, who occasionally let us in on their sandlot games at the risk of their pride and reputations. We waited and for some of us, it was worth the wait. We soon learned what was so special about team play, about uniting and sacrificing for a common cause, all the clichés and important lessons with which boys were raised.
We absorbed it all and we grew up and had children of our own. And, because progress does not always allow for common sense to intercede, we threw ourselves into our children’s lives, into their childhoods and their own private little classrooms.
We love them so much and are so proud of their accomplishments and we tell them often. We support them and their pursuits and want them to have every opportunity to succeed, even when they would just as soon move onto the next new adventure or do nothing at all.
When we came home from school complaining about a bad grade or a mean teacher, our parents would stand up for the teacher. But we run to school to stick up for our kids. We talk to their coaches, too, ask them why our children are not playing more and what we can do to improve their performance.
We are wiser because each generation always is.
But sometimes, we really don’t get it.