Archive for July, 2012

Summer’s game

As hard as it looks

Baseball isn’t boring anymore. The game hasn’t changed, nor has MLB done much aside from adapt to the times. The change has happened in the backyard.

This isn’t some nostalgic piece about the faraway summers of my youth or some softbellied naval gazing on how fatherhood has restored the essence of a game. Ok, it might be, but it’s mainly about baseball.

My six-year-old boy and four-year-old girl are both enrolled in park district baseball and both are disappointed. The boy because they don’t count runs, don’t keep outs, and ignore strikes. My daughter because she only gets to bat once, and that’s off a T. Just about every day this summer, the real game has been in the backyard.

The smack of the ball on leather, the ting of the aluminum bat, the backyard trees as makeshift bases and the hedgerow as a homerun fence—all of these have endeared the game’s charms once again. I used to love baseball as a kid, hoped with the same intensity that a premiere player waited in the powdery wax of a pack of cards as much as some kids at the park needing my glove to even out the sides. Like collecting baseball cards, the game itself became slow, boring, and unimpressive. Like most teenage boys I admired speed, power, bodily grace and mental domination, nothing that is obvious in baseball. This might be why football has become America’s most popular spectator sport, judging by marketers and bookmakers at least. It is so American that we’ve taken the world’s definition of football and changed it completely. How many meters was that field goal, anyway?

Despite the preeminence of football as a national gambling pastime, baseball is the ultimate summer pastime. Baseball is slow and doesn’t demand much: the rules are simple, you don’t have to be fit to play, you can sit on your ass for long stretches of time, and go ahead, have a chew or a smoke. I am not referring to the spectators. For these same reasons, though, ballfields draw a crowd no matter what age or level. Parks are at their peak capacity during baseball season.

What’s the draw? The kids. By watching my kids’ games and my older nephew’s games, I truly appreciate how physically complex it is to turn a grounder, to react to the ball off the bat, predict its location and respond accordingly—in a split second—then to glove it and throw it on target and on pace to beat the runner…it is an awesome play to behold, a spike of action where the crowd holds its collective breath, and perhaps justification for the salaries of pros who make such a thing seem routine. Consider the hand-eye coordination on both ends of the ball, the timing and singularity of each ball, thrown or struck. Kids respond with wonder, and parents with embarrassing cheers. Having a catch is not a simple summer day on a lazy river, back and forth, over and over. Not initially. (And yes, I have recently adopted “having a catch” in place of its sloppier Midwestern idiom of “playing catch”.)

Having a catch or watching a ball game might be the perfect summer night, out in the grass, near dusk, the crack of the bat, the collective breath held.

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Lame camping

“Why do we have to go lame camping?”

“Why do we have to go lame camping?” our son asked of our first camping road trip.

I couldn’t blame him. After our first night camping in Nebraska, aborted at 4 a.m. from 100 degree midnight heat, we spent three nights in a Hyatt suite with a separate room and a kitchen. We were outside Boulder for a lovely, intimate wedding, with guests that included three chefs, so the food was abundant and the drinks were balanced. The hotel had a pool, breakfast, happy hour, a bouncy king-sized bed, plenty of ice, air conditioning and a TV. We indulged. That was half the trip. Our boy was not pleased at the onset of the second half. Neither were the bugs.

Bugs

* Numbers: Three nights in a hotel, three nights in tents, one night rolling through the bug-splattered plains in our beloved 2002 Honda Odyssey, the Little Griswald. It performed impeccably.

* More numbers: 1 week, 2,600 miles, 8 states.

* Wildlife seen: two prairie dog colonies (the kids wanted to play whack-a-mole), dozens of chipmunks dubbed “chippy”, a herd of 38 deer (the boy counted) grazing past our camping area in Rocky Mountain, one elk in a parking lot, one deer pooing, a family of antelope including two fawns, a herd of buffalo blocking the road (I wish I could download the video of the bull licking the butt of the female buffalo at the hood of our car–oh, the giggling), a big horn sheep on a mesa in the Badlands, an eagle, and more hawks than we could count. Everyone was relieved we saw no bears.

* Lessons learned: hiking is not fun for young kids if they can’t play. We had too many safety rules in Rocky Mountain National Park. In Custer State Park in South Dakota, we could run and climb and throw pinecones. Much more fun. And an air mattress, even deflated, makes good ground cover.

Highlights:

Maria dunking her hat in a cold mountain stream then dumping it on her head.

Calvin writing in his junior ranger book, under “What did you see?”, “I saw a deer pooing.”

Morning swim with Mom in a lake after a hike.

The buffalo.

Lowlights: Nebraska.

Me wearing the same shirt in all these pictures.

Duffer totem

While the kids’ fondness for the trip is growing now that we’re home, they still don’t want to camp. In hindsight, we probably crammed too much into too short a time. Driving all afternoon, then setting up camp at dusk, only to break it down the next morning, can be too much work for a vacation. But the kids were intrepid and the wife was inspiring. It was an introduction to camping and we learned: next time, we’ll take our time. The centerpiece of this trip was the wedding. And the family.

The family goose

 

 

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