It is no secret that I have a difficult time enjoying sports. I was not the strongest child, or the fastest, and I was certainly not the most competitive when it came to throwing, catching, lifting, pulling, or knocking people over. I was never the first kid picked to join a team (unless it had something to do with words or storytelling) and sometimes I was even the last. Athletics were never my strong suit and even after all this time I'm uncomfortable in that realm. Perhaps that's why I dislike the Soccer Hoards and get so angry when I witness unsportsmanlike behavior.
The Little Leaguers have invaded the park where Duncan and I walk all year. During the long winter months there are weeks when we don't pass a single other soul while on our tromps. We are there as the sun is rising and even long after it has set. We are there when the snow is deep, when the rain is falling, when the strong winds rip the branches from the trees. And because of this I get a little protective of it. We love it unconditionally, not just as the season suits and nothing annoys me more than walking after a soccer or baseball game and discovering piles of trash, mostly water bottles, strewn across the lawn. So when I saw the crowds of boys and parents and coaches spread across the park yesterday I immediately felt myself tense up.
I have witnessed coaches and players treating each other in the most despicable of manners so when I saw a group of boys standing in a semi-circle practicing hitting I watched them carefully. The coach was kneeling in the center of their circle tossing balls at each boy. One by one they hit the balls, which shot straight up into the air, a hit that could have easily been caught by even the most novice of catchers during a game. And then came the littlest boy's turn. The coach tossed the ball at him and he swung and missed. The coach tried again and once again the boy missed. He was the first not to hit the ball so immediately the other boys began jeering at him even though they were teammates. The coach tried again and again, on and on, and even though the scorn of his teammates escalated while the coach did nothing to contain it, the boy persevered. And then finally there was a solid swing and a strong hit. The ball ricocheted off the bat, low and fast, cutting through the air as it sped past the coach and the boys. It flew far, uncatchable by his teammates and landed well outside their circle. Immediately the name-calling stopped and was followed by a profound silence.
I pumped my fist and called, "Good one," and gave the kid a thumb's up as they all turned and looked at me. "Way to go!"
He smiled, gave a slight nod of his head and smiled softly.
I felt vindicated and proud of him.