We’re the first ones on the field, and Zach, my five-year-old with mild autism, decides to run the entire perimeter of the diamond just to make sure I understand the rules of the game. I assure him I’m no novice to baseball, and encourage him to keep up his pace, as I know it helps him get some of his energy out.
It’s his third time out here but my first, as play practice forced me to miss his initial foray into the world of sports, and I’m excited to see what he can do.
It’s been almost two years since we attempted soccer at the tender age of three, and given that my son spent most of those sessions running away with his little blonde-haired girlfriend, I admit I’m hoping for better today.
Sports are such an important gateway to social opportunities, particularly for boys. My fingers are crossed that he’ll like this, and perhaps will make a new friend.
If not, I must also admit I know half the moms on his team, so it’s a social opportunity for me too. The evening is turning into a win-win.
We’ve signed Zach up for Challenger Baseball to give him the chance to learn the rules and practice in a non-competitive environment, and it is evident within minutes of meeting the coaches that they are as enthusiastic and committed to the program as I’ve heard they would be. Our town is very fortunate in that we have multiple sports opportunities geared toward children with a range of abilities, everything from baseball to basketball, soccer to hockey.
While this world wasn’t exactly enticing to Justin (he lasted about ten minutes with ice hockey, just long enough to don all the gear and let me know in no uncertain terms he was not happy about it), I’m hoping Zach will find it more to his liking. Plus, I’ve heard that each of the kids gets a buddy to assist him through the ins and outs of the game, and that basically parents just sit back and watch.
A second, and for me profound, win-win.
Unfortunately that evening Zach’s assigned mentor doesn’t show, but we’re able to secure him a substitute, and my son works that pre-teen hard. The rules are that every kid on both teams gets to bat twice, and when they’re not waiting for their turn, they’re supposed to be practicing their outfield duties.
Zach interprets this to mean he should throw the ball as far as humanly possible and watch while his buddy retrieves it, and it takes a while for him to comprehend that the goal is for each of them to actually catch that well-worn sphere.
There are a few times he simply takes off running (this time without his golden-haired accomplice), and I register both exasperation and patience on his new friend’s face, but his helper unfailingly retrieves him every time.
Eventually, Zach gets that he’s supposed to be paying attention to what’s going on around him. He even waits fairly compliantly for each of his turns at bat, cheering on one of his former classmates when he realizes Mommy is doing it, and that it’s fun.
In my opinion, minus the pretzels and beer, the best part of baseball is the yelling.
The game is over within the hour (everyone won, no surprises there), and my youngest child is returned to me, sweaty, dirty, thirsty, and thoroughly pleased with himself. I thank the tall teen who took care of him, and he graciously says it was fun, then walks away looking quite tired.
I ask Zach if he’d like to do it again next week and I’m met with a resounding “yes!”, and I have to smile.
There was a time not too long ago where me and my husband spent a great deal of time hoping he’d like something, anything, once again. To have that “something” be baseball, an activity his father not only loves but was once quite good at in his heyday, seems extravagantly fortunate.
I am thrilled for my son. I’m thrilled for his dad. I make a mental note (one that this time I’m certain I’ll retain) that he should knock off work early next week, and watch his son engage in our nation’s favorite pastime.
It’s entirely possible after this run that Zach might not ever want to play again, but you never know. In the meantime, he’ll learn patience, sportsmanship, and (hopefully) a little bit about following the rules. He’ll have to engage in the subtle nuances of social interplay to get along with his designated pal, plus he’ll need to remember somebody else is his boss for an hour a week.
Maybe he’ll make a new friend. Even better perhaps, he might discover a new passion, one he can share with the man he looks up to, literally and figuratively, every day. Hopefully, no matter what, he’ll have fun.
And with a little luck, in numerous respects, this may turn out to be his field of dreams come true.