National Pastime

She let a giggle escape as she slid her fists together. I raised her elbow to line up with her ear and the giggle erupted into an outburst of laughter. Her knees went soft and she lost her stance. I looked over at her baseball coach who was laughing himself. Her laughter was infectious. It was hard to get serious with her.

“OK, Jordan, ” I said. “Let’s hit the ball out of the park.”

She had wriggled around in her outburst so much that her feet were pointing in the wrong direction. I gently turned her ankles toward the batting tee. This, of course, prompted more giggles. I steadied her by resting my palm on her back. She raised her arms with the bat against her shoulder. Her coach placed the ball on the tee. She took no time at all to swing the bat and connect. There was no power in it, but the ball flew cleanly up the middle dropping to the ground just behind the pitcher’s mound. I cheered her but quickly stopped when I noticed that she was standing there with me, both of us admiring her ball.

“Run, Jordan. Run.”

She disappeared down the first base line, helmet bobbling on her tiny head, a plume of giggles tracing her route. Jordan had scored her first base hit.

To be perfectly honest, I never thought she would make it to the plate, much less first base. She’s never been interested in athletics, although she does enjoy snuggling with me while I watch a ball game. I call her my baseball girl because I can always count on her to warm my lap (and usually fall asleep) while I take in an Angels game. But previous attempts to get her playing sports resulted in disappointment. A year ago, I signed her up for soccer and agreed to coach her team. Midway through the season she decided that the best part of soccer was snack. She stood in the center of the playing field crying while girls raced around her. We let her end the season early, a sacrilegious act in our family, and warned her that if she signed up for another sport she would be required to see it through. I figured that was the end of her athletic aspirations.

But then, sometime around November, she declared that she was going to play baseball. Jeanette and I reminded her of the soccer experience, but she always responded, “that’s alright. I want to play baseball.” I’d look at Nettie. She’d look at me. We’d both look at Jordan who always stood smiling, an aura of resolve about her. I usually responded with sarcasm, the memory of coaching a team that was supposed to include my own child lingering. “Well, don’t expect me to coach,” I’d say.

When time came to register for the baseball season, I sat her down and gave a lecture. I told her how important it was to serve the team. I told her that the team relied on her to play. I told her that, just like fighting cancer, half the battle in sports is perseverance. When I’d finished my oratory, I let a moment of silence accent the gravity of the message. Jordan furrowed her brow. Her eyes hungered for understanding.

“I really want to play baseball, Daddy.”

How do you say no to such an honest plea for participation?

Saturday, watching her run a scrambled beeline up the base path, I was glad to have relented. She was having fun. She was applying herself. Maybe this was a self-prescribed component of her own recovery plan. Maybe she wanted to wear a uniform and practice the baseball ritual. Maybe she just wanted to feel the joy of hitting a ball with a bat. Whatever her reason, it felt good.

It was a big day for our family. Not only did Jordan hit her first single (she connected for another single later in the game), Lucas surprised us all with his own playing development. It’s amazing what a difference a year will make. Baseball has always been his favorite sport, but sometimes his playing ability and his passion were arms length apart. Saturday, he went 3 for 4 with an RBI. He played catcher for an inning and blocked the plate courageously. In the outfield, he backed up every play, hustling to cover his teammates with a seriousness I’d never seen before. This was the boy who often played in the dirt while runners rounded the bases. No more. He barely cracked a smile on the field. He was a gamer through and through.

But the moment Saturday that caused me the greatest pride derived from the subtlest of actions. Two of Lucas’s teammates from last year played for the opponent. In the third inning, one of those former teammates scored a triple. Lucas was playing third base. When his friend tagged up and settled on the bag, I noticed that Lucas gave him a pat on the lower back. There was no great attention called to the act. Neither boy looked at the other. No small talk or horseplay, just a mature acknowledgment from one friend to another of a job well-done. It was a proud moment on a day that bestowed abundant pride and a sense of accomplishment for our family.