Monday, April 10, 2006

Baseball, Red Dirt, and Apple Pie.

Baseball and food are numinously entwined. The two go together like peanuts and Cracker Jack.

Times have changed from the popcorn, peanuts, and hot dog days of our youth. Today’s major league ballparks feature servers who take your order while you sit in your seat, enter the order on a wireless computer device, and deliver the food directly to your seat. From San Diego, to Seattle, to Maryland, baseball fans are eating fish tacos, tofu hot dogs, and crab cake sandwiches.

In Hattiesburg the local baseball parks are still serving the all familiar peanuts, popcorn, and candy bars. I know this because I am now officially entering the next phase of my life: The always-at-the-soccer-field-or-baseball-park phase.

My four-year old son is playing 5-6-year old coach-pitch baseball. It is his first ever exposure to the sport.

At the conclusion of his first practice, the coach gathered the team in the dugout and asked, “What’s the number one rule of baseball?” My son’s hand shot into the air. It was the only hand raised.

“Harrison,” the coach said, nodding in his direction, “What’s the number one rule in baseball?”

“Don’t hit dogs.”

“Well, Harrison, that’s a good rule, but that’s not rule number one. Rule number one is ‘don’t throw dirt.’” I had to pull the coach aside later and tell him that my son wasn’t an animal abuser. He walks around the house with his bat and his mother and I are constantly telling him not to swing the bat anywhere near the dog.

Driving home after practice, I was trying to figure out the logic behind rule number one. I could come up with at least a thousand other baseball rules that were more important than throwing dirt— keep your eye on the ball, keep your other hand above your glove when fielding a grounder— then I attended the second practice. It was a red-dirt throwing and kicking free-for-all. I became a huge fan of rule number one that day.

I have also learned that 5-6 year old baseball can turn into a full contact sport. There is an innate desire imbedded in these children to chase the ball, wherever on the field it might be. Every time a ball is hit into the outfield there is a mad dash of at least six boys chasing it down. They run from all areas of the infield and then jump onto a pile. At the second practice, my son, the right fielder, was chasing down foul tips behind home plate.

His baseball team is Piercon, named for a local construction company. His soccer team’s mascot was a panther. Yesterday he asked what type of animal a Piercon was. He has a friend who plays for the Hattiesburg Clinic’s Gynecology group. Luckily, they don’t have a mascot either.

I was worried about my boy playing coach-pitch this season for several reasons: being the youngest on the team and having not yet turned five-years old, not having played T-Ball last year, and the fact I hadn’t worked with him much on baseball until a few weeks ago. After watching him in the batter’s cage minutes before his first game, he only hit one out of 30 pitched balls. In a game, the batter only gets seven pitches. As he stepped up to the plate I was already composing my “father speech” which would be delivered in the hopes of cheering him up and making sure he held his head high after he swung and missed the seventh ball. Then he got a hit! He was excited. I was ecstatic.

We are currently three games into my son’s baseball career. He has six hits, 47 errors, and three tackles and I’ve never had more fun in my life.

On July 20, 1969, I was eating popcorn and peanuts in Yankee Stadium watching a double header between the Yankees and the Washington Senators when an announcement was made, “America has just landed on the moon!” Everyone stood and cheered. The game was stopped and the national anthem was played. Until last Saturday, that was my most memorable baseball moment.

I am proud to say that, to me, America landing on the moon can’t hold a candle to Harrison getting his first base hit.

Please keep Darian Pierce, coach of the Piercon Dirtkickers, in your prayers. He needs all the help he can get.

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