It’s a frigid April afternoon, and the drizzling rain will keep me upright for the next seven innings…but I don’t care. Today Benjamin Cardozo will play Franklin K. Lane High School, and in a few minutes I’m going to get a chance to watch my son play baseball, and that is my favorite thing to do.
There’s a marching band practicing to my right. They’re really loud…but it’s cool. Then just as I realize you normally don’t find a marching band at a baseball game, they pack up there instruments and leave. Well, at least there’s a bathroom at this school — and its open — for now. There’s some small talk with the other dads and then, at last, Cardozo takes the field. My son, Demitri — #7– mans third base and starts taking grounders. My heart skips a beat: Excitement, enthusiasm, adrenaline and anticipation fill my veins, and I am suddenly warm and unaffected by the nasty weather.
I love baseball. My grandfather, George, was a huge baseball fan and my Uncle Julio played professionally. They passed on their passion for the game to me. My favorite thing about baseball is there’s no clock. The game’s not over until the 27th out is completed, and if at the end of nine innings the game is tied, it continues into extra innings. There is something so romantic about a game being unaffected by time.
When my son was first born, I would put objects in his left hand to see if he was a lefty, because those pitchers have an easier path into the major leagues. As soon as he could hold a little bat, I was tossing cushy baseballs at him. When he was four years old — the minimum age requirement to start playing organized baseball — I brought him to watch a peewee league game at Elmjack Little League in Queens. I don’t know who was more excited when I was signing him up for the snowflake season, him or me. Okay, it was me.
I watched my son play his first eight peewee games from the sidelines, and then threw my hat into the ring as a volunteer coach for the following spring.
For 10 years thereafter, I coached most of my son’s baseball teams, and when his little league career was over and it was time to move onto high school, part of me was heart broken. The other part of me was beaming with pride when he made his high school team.
There were some amazing moments in those little league games. Like the time he hit his first home run…a shot over the fence in right center. It was all I could do to hold back my tears when the other parents gave me congratulatory high fives. But when all his teammates gathered around home plate and jumped on top of him in celebration, the floodgates opened.
Then there was the year I coached his Division I team of 11 and 12 year olds to the championship series. We were playing the Cardinals that year. They were a beast of a team and had won the championship the year before. It was a best of three series and we won the first game. I had my son pitch the second game and he threw a gem, but there we were in the bottom of the sixth, clinging to a one run lead. The bases were loaded with two outs. Should I put another pitcher in, or let my son close it out? I took a walk to the mound and told my son there was no one else coming in; he’d have to finish it. It was tough love, but I think I made the right decision, because the next batter hit a squibbler back to the mound. My son grabbed the ball and started running in to home. From the dug out I was screaming, “First! Go to first!” but my son knew better. He figured why risk a throw to first, when there’s a force play at home. He charged in and dove headfirst, tagging home plate and beating the runner that was barreling down the third base line by a foot. The dugout emptied out once again in celebration over a play my son made, just like the major league teams do when they win a championship.
Kids grow up so fast. My son is almost through his junior year already. That means he’s got this year’s summer ball and his senior season left. If he gets his wish and goes away for college, I only have a year left to watch him play. Thinking about it makes me depressed, so I try not to.
Back in the day, I was blessed to have the men in my family pass their love of baseball onto to me, and I, in turn, shared my passion for the game with my son. Baseball has created an unbreakable bond between us. That’s why I’m happy to stand in the bleachers for seven innings in the cold rain, and enjoy every pitch of this game. The game is not over until the twenty-seventh out is completed, and if I’m lucky, this one will go into extra innings today.