I traveled backward in time this weekend. It was as surprising as it was wonderful.
I was visiting my son and his family, and as we all said goodnight, he told me his adult-league baseball team had games the next morning.
I asked where. It turned out it was just a few miles off my route home.
My son’s childhood was a long span of baseball games in the summer and basketball in the winter. He loved sports, and he was a good athlete. He played as soon as he was old enough to join a team. Always two or three heads taller than his classmates, he became a lanky, imposing presence on the pitcher’s mound, at shortstop, or playing center or forward on the basketball court.
Fortunately, those were the two sports I liked, so I was not a totally uninformed spectator. But mostly I was at those games to watch him.
I rejoiced to see him when he had fun, when he played well, when he was proud of himself. My heart broke for him when he grew frustrated, was too hard on himself. I didn’t care about the win; I cared about how he felt. He loved playing, I wanted to see him enjoy it.
I have two favorite memories of my son playing sports.
One was when he was in elementary school, on the local Little League team. It had been raining all day before practice, and instead of calling it off, the coach let them play. It was the muddiest, messiest, funniest baseball practice that field had ever hosted, and it was a joy to watch. A team of boisterous young boys suddenly decided it was essential for every single one of them to slide into every base, to leap into every puddle, and to roll on the ground after making a catch. By the end of the game, they all looked like laughing mud golems.
The other memorable game was when my son was in high school, when every skill he had developed smoothly clicked into place, and he played the basketball game of his life. There was nothing he couldn’t do, no play he couldn’t make, no pass he couldn’t nail, no basket he couldn’t hit. He was in the zone, and everyone knew it, including him. And that was something to see.
My son is a man now, a husband and a father.
I went to see him play, and suddenly I saw that little boy again, that teenager. He stood in the field, concentrating on the plate, shifting his center of balance with each hit, and I saw him learning that, perfecting that, as a boy.
He was at third base this time, and their pitcher got totally lit up by the other team. But there came a moment when a runner was coming for third, and the catcher grabbed the ball and threw it to my son, just a moment late. My son grabbed it, and swept his arm down to third. It was what he’d been trained to do since he was little boy.
He didn’t make the out, the ball didn’t reach him in time. But the grace, the ease, the way his body knew what to do without even thinking, was a product of all the years he’d given to the game. I think that’s what he enjoys the most.
It made me very happy.
Read more installments of Village Voices by Susan Barnett.