My oldest son Michael was virtually born wanting to play, watch or otherwise engage in some kind of sport. I had hoped for a little pointed headed nerd son, primarily to dispel some of the stereotypes about blacks not being intellectual, but to paraphrase an old Jewish proverb, Woman plans and God laughs. Mike from the time he could walk wanted to ball up socks and shoot them into the trashcan or play catch with stuffed animals. He was, is and always shall be obsessed by sports.
Fortunately, he was also a good student, so all was not lost. Nevertheless I spent an inordinate amount of time sitting in stadiums, arenas, fields, etc., from the time he was four until he finished college and beyond, watching him play something. His father was a grade A enabler. He coached Mike in football and baseball, the latter into his teen years.
The baseball experience was my least favorite for a variety of reasons. First, baseball season starts sooner than Ohio thaws out. I mean, sitting in snow showers watching teenagers throw a small orb around for hours is not something any mother should have to do. Second, it is a boring game–okay I am ready for the abuse, go ahead. In football ( my favorite) there is strategy, there is something happening virtually all the time. In basketball, my second choice, it is repetitive, but it at least takes place inside. Football is outside but in the fall. Besides, there are great memories of cold football games, huddling under blankets and cheering on your team.
In baseball nothing happens for minutes at the time besides scratching and spitting. I used to be certain that the baseball gods had it in for me. About once a year someone would give us Reds tickets and we would mount a safari down to the bowels of Cincinnati to watch older men scratch and spit. Besides checking to see if any of the drunks were actually going to fall out of the upper stands and watching families trying to keep their children from bankrupting them at the souvenir and concession stands I was totally bored. So, of course, virtually every time we went the game would go into extra innings. Sigh.
But I digress. The baseball organization in Mike’s playing years was YRC. From April to September we were part of a nomadic bunch of very diverse people who went to baseball games all over the Miami Valley and beyond. I can truthfully say that I met some of the most interesting and fun people I have ever known while we were in our baseball days, I can also say that I met quite a few people I would not want to speak to me in Walmart in front of other people. But, for the most part, even though some of them were, shall we say earthy, they were a great bunch of people.
So we would either go out to the fields next to Bob Evans–if the game went too long you could hear them killing the pigs, not exactly family friendly–or caravan to some other exotic field to indulge in the nation’s past time.The YRC fields were a triumph for Xenia, not necessarily known for recreational facilities, particularly for kids–Shawnee Park aside.
The general scheme was to go out to the field for most of the day. If your kid only had one game someone else you knew had a kid that had a game before or after. So, you packed up your lawn chairs and cooler and went out. Nikki and Chris, being much younger than Mike would simply run wild with the other herds of children, some of whom were dropped off about noon by their parents and not picked back up until dark. No matter how nicely I dressed the younger kids by the end of the day they were amazingly grimy. Nikki was fond of candy necklaces, which she would both wear and eat, meaning her neck and upper body was a great area for the ever-present dust to settle in the sticky remnants. I forbade candy necklaces but she knew too many people at the baseball park and had no trouble obtaining them surreptitiously.
On one occasion one of Wayne’s player’s sister walked too close to older boys having batting practice before their game. This was a little doe-eyed girl whose mother dropped her off with her older brother every game day and never came back for either of them until it was almost dark. Sometimes we had to stay with them because everyone else was leaving the park and we did not want them left out in that relatively remote area alone. Because this was pre-cell phone days we tried to call the mom from the concession stand phone, but there was no answer. Ergo, there was no one to tend to the rather large goose egg on her forehead but me. We put ice on it, but it was still impressively large and split down the middle. One of the team members’ dads was a paramedic and he said he thought she should be checked out. That meant someone had to ride in the ambulance with her. As the coach’s wife ( they did not tell me I held a formal office until that day) I had to go with her. Her mother was finally tracked down and came the hospital eventually, but I have often wondered how those children did with a mom who seemed to be willing to leave them to their own devices so often and seemingly with such interest.
Once when Mike was around 12 years old there was a tournament in Hillsboro Ohio, about 45 miles from Xenia. If we won we were to play again early the next day, so it was decided that if we won the game we would spend the night in Hillsboro, dividing the boys up amongst our various hotel rooms. I should have known it was going to be an eventful trip when one group pulled up with shakers full of Bloody Mary’s for the trip. All I could do was decline to join them and hope that the curving road to Hillsboro did not present an insurmountable challenge for them. We all made it to the field and settled in for the day.
To the chagrin of our boys one of the star players, the pitcher for one of the other teams was a girl. The boys-at the age where their ideas about girls were undergoing some changes–were at first amused and later outraged as the young woman– her name was Carla, struck out player after player. The boys were openly cheering for the team she was facing, even though they did not know any of the boys on that team. The mothers, in a rare show of feminist solidarity, began cheering for Carla and her team.
Carla’s team won and after we dispatched our opponent we found out that we would play her team the next day. A relatively subdued group of young men adjourned to the hotel, with the sobering thought that they would have to face her the next day.
The next day dawned bright and sunny, after breakfast we loaded all of the boys up for the trip to the field. Arriving at the field the boys got down to batting practice and practicing their catching skills. You could tell that this game was more important to them than other games, they had to strike a blow for their gender!
The game began and the parents from both teams, who all had to sit in the same stands, made polite small talk and expressed our hope that both teams would do well and play a good game. That, of course, began to break down a bit when the game actually got rolling.
Around the 3rd inning I thought I must be having a stroke or something, the ground seemed to be moving on its own. A few minutes after I had that odd feeling the stands, which were metal, began to rumble. We were having an earthquake. The pitcher’s mound was obviously shaking and they stopped the game to see what was transpiring. It turned out a rare earthquake had, indeed hit southwestern Ohio. It did not do a lot of damage, a few broken windows and dishes rolled off of shelves and smashed but other than that it was more exciting than dangerous.
The game resumed and Carla retook the mound. Despite the hurculean efforts of the young men from Xenia, girl power took the day. It was a quiet ride back up the road to Xenia.