It was a 73 degree, bluebird-sky Colorado morning on the Little League field, and I had my Starbucks and a newspaper. It was also the second to last game of my 10-year-old son Caleb’s second season as a Dodger, and I should have been able to just sit back and enjoy as he and his teammates warmed up for their game.
But my gut was clenched as I watched Caleb practice. I was actually stressed out because of Little League. Caleb, #5, wanted to pitch, but he missed the plate each and every time he threw the ball.
If my husband Larry had not been the Dodgers’ coach, I might have asked Caleb early into his first baseball season last spring whether he really wanted to continue. I knew of course that Little League was supposed to just be for fun, but I wondered how Caleb could be having any fun when he couldn’t hit or catch the ball. It just seemed so clear that baseball wasn’t going to be his “thing.” But Larry insisted that Caleb was learning. That he understood the game and that his short, scrawny body just needed to catch up with everything he knew in his head. So, since Caleb seemed OK with it all, just happy to be out there playing and part of the team, I bit my tongue and kept schlepping him to practices and to games.
During his first season last spring, Caleb struck out every time he went to bat. And he groped clumsily at the ball every time it made its way to where he was standing in the outfield. But then, finally, at the beginning of this season, he started to make contact, bat to ball, and he even got a few runs. He also developed a truly solid ability at second base.
Back to Saturday’s game. We were in the 5th or 6th inning when Larry decided to let Caleb try his hand at pitching. And it was painful, just as awful as I’d feared, and maybe even more so. The ball made it directly over the plate a few times, but for the most part, Caleb threw it above the batters’ heads or too far to one of their sides or way too short of home plate.
But still, my son kept pitching. He stood on the pitcher’s mound, totally determined and focused, and he kept going, trying his absolute best, until the other team had walked so many runs that Larry finally replaced him.
At this point, Caleb walked away from the pitcher’s mound with a satisfied grin. “Great job, Caleb!” I yelled from the stands. “Way to go, Caleb!” cheered my friend Mary, another Dodger mom. Many of the Dodgers became easily frustrated when they struck out or messed up a play in the outfield, and Larry had to work hard to instill in Caleb and his teammates the lessons of baseball beyond winning. Fortunately, the Dodger parents were a levelheaded bunch. I smiled at Mary and relaxed. How lucky was I to have such a kind community in which to raise my son? How lucky was I to have such a cool kid?
Maybe Caleb is OK with baseball because he has other endeavors in which he excels, like karate, skiing, and math. And he might not need baseball to be his thing because he’s got other talents and skills. But I also think he just gets the real meaning of a game in a way that is seriously smart beyond his years.
I am so proud of Dodger #5 for his tenacity and for the ways in which his Little League efforts reminded his recovering perfectionist of a Jewish mama that I have to stick with things I enjoy even when they are hard. And that life is a marathon, not a sprint. And that if I quit because I’m not an all-star, I end up off the field, not playing the game at all.
I’m also pretty thankful, by the way, for #5’s wise and patient coach.
Evelyn Becker is a writer, activist and mother who is currently working on her first book, “Three Sabbaths: a memoir of rebellion, repair & love.” “Three Sabbaths” is the story of the spiritual journey that took Evelyn from a frustrated and lonely adolescence in Silver Spring, Maryland’s insular Orthodox Jewish enclave to the healing strengths of nature and a meaningful Jewish family life in the Rocky Mountains. Evelyn lives with her husband and two young children in Denver, Colorado.