Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Back in the Swing (Sort Of)

Chicago little league baseball has begun in spite of May snow flurries, brisk winds, and perpetually soggy fields.

We had signed A. Peevie up for minors because he had skipped a year of baseball, he's small for his age, and he still fears the ball. (He begged us to sign him up for majors, but we did not want him to be eaten alive.) The Little League Powers That Be (TLLPTB) decided, in their infinite wisdom, to place him into majors anyway, because of his advanced age (11). This made the little man very happy, because he sees himself with great confidence as a major league ball-player.

The first few practices were rained out, plus A. Peevie missed at least one due to illness. Finally, we made it to a practice three days before the first scheduled game. A. Peevie took the field reluctantly, warily eyeing the two boys who were batting fierce line drives from the first and third baselines.

"Ready position!" the coach hollered, but A. Peevie had no idea what he meant. He shuffled his feet, hunched his shoulders, and looked over toward me with a worried frown. A ball whizzed over his head.

"A. Peevie, get in ready position!" the coach yelled across the field, crouching down and dropping his glove down between his ankles to demonstrate. A ball whizzed by A. Peevie's left shoulder, and his worried frown intensified. He started to take a step toward me, but I waved him back.

"Give yourself a coupla minutes!" I encouraged him, but when I turned toward the coach I said, "Coach, I don't think he's ready for this level of play." I explained our situation, and he agreed that if A.P. was still afraid of the ball he'd probably be better off in minors in spite of his age.

Meanwhile, balls were still whizzing past A. Peevie, and he was doing his best to avoid getting killed or maimed. I waved him in, and by the time he got to me he was shaking and crying from terror. I comforted him and told him he gave it a try, and was very brave, but we'd move him down to minors where he'd feel more comfortable. The coach also patted his shoulder kindly and said, "Hey, buddy, thanks for coming out and giving it a try today. We'll get you up here in majors next year, OK?"

I called the league director, and he got A. Peevie onto the minor league Orioles, with a coach whose motto is "No Child Left Behind." As it turned out, the next day was the first game; but A. Peevie was not on board.

"I'm not playing," he announced adamantly. "I don't want to play baseball anymore. I'm not going to play."

"Well, buddy," I told him, "You have to give it a try. We only signed you up because you said you wanted to play, and now we've got you on a team in the right league, and you can't just quit."

"Well, I do quit," he said firmly. "I'm not playing." Fine, I told him, but you're going to sit on the bench with your team anyway.

Everything is a huge emotional roller coaster with this kid. He wants to play, he doesn't want to play; he can't wait for baseball to start, he can't wait for baseball to be over; he's crying, he's laughing insanely. It gets exhausting.

So we show up at the game the next day and met two of the assistant coaches. These guys are the kind of guys you want coaching your anxiety-ridden, ambivalent, inexperienced little leaguer. One of them gently persuaded A. Peevie to toss the ball with him. The other reassured him that he could play in the game if he wanted to, but if he didn't feel comfortable yet, he wouldn't have to.

In the end, A. Peevie chose to sit on the bench for the whole game, even though the coach asked him about every other inning if he'd like to get in the game. I alternated between sitting down by third base in my folding chair, wishing I had brought a blanket because it was so dang cold; and hanging out behind the bench to try to help A.P. meet some of the guys on the team.

One little guy chatted with us like we were old friends, and later, on the way home, A. Peevie smiled cheerfully and said, "I like that guy."

A. Peevie came home "sick" from school on the day of the next game, so he was off the hook for baseball once again. The next game is scheduled for Saturday, the day after tomorrow. I wonder whether my middle child will swing the bat, or sit in a miserable heap of stubbornness on the bench.


Meg E. Cox said...

Meg in back-seat-driver mode:

Give A. and yourself an out: set a number of games (say 3 or 5) so he has space to change his mind, then let him decide one way or the other after that. Meanwhile be available to practice at home or in the park if he's up for it--both before and after game 3 or 5, whether or not he stays on the team.

E. Peevie said...

OK, MegECox, I will consider that. But here are my concerns:

1) if he commits to something (and I pay money for it), shouldn't he stick it out rather than quit in the middle? Isn't he theoretically letting down his team if he quits?

2) Last year he chose not to play, but two years ago he wanted to sign up. Same thing happened: he changed his mind, didn't want to go to practice, didn't want to play in games. We made him, until he had to quit because of cardiac issues. At his last game, he hit a triple and got to keep the game ball, which he treasures. If we hadn't insisted that he stick to his commitment, he wouldn't have had that experience.

What do you say?