I’ll probably get hate mail for saying this in a town like ours, but I've never been a big baseball fan.
In St. Louis, that’s pretty much the equivalent of saying I hate America and apple pie.
Don’t get me wrong – I have respect for baseball and even greater respect for the St. Louis Cardinals. There are so many elements of the sport I’ve loved since childhood – the history and the tradition and the camaraderie. I love the energy as the fans pour into the stadium and the good-natured ribbing of the Cubs fans who enter our midst.
But the game itself, ehhhh.
Like any fan, I got swept up in the playoff excitement last year, but when it’s a regular season game on a Tuesday, I tend to nod off in my seat.
Maybe it’s because I have self-diagnosed ADD, fueled by a steady consumption of MTV and Coca-Cola in my teens, and require non-stop stimulation which baseball, while strategic, can’t deliver in the way hockey and basketball can.
Or maybe it’s because I’m more of an artsy-fartsy girl than a jock. If Beltran performed a grand jeté every time he ran to first a la Damn Yankees and Molina flashed jazz hands every time he threw to second, I would be in baseball heaven.
When I do go to a game, my friend and I spend nine innings pinky-swearing that we’ll bail each other out if we get arrested for tripping the stiletto-wearing 21-year-old girls carrying beers up the stadium steps and whining that no one blasts “Welcome to the Jungle” over the loudspeaker every time we go to work.
That’s when our husbands yell at us that we’re going to get nailed by a line drive because we’re not paying attention, which I’ve wholeheartedly accepted will be the way I enter the afterlife.
Although I said good-bye to my own playing days when I hit junior high, baseball has recently reentered my life. Since MJ is five years old, she’s eligible to play t-ball, because you have to play t-ball if you live in Illinois. It’s the law of the land – like Dairy Queen and strip clubs and carving cows out of butter.
Mr. P was almost overcome with giddiness at the thought of assistant coaching. After five years of nail polish and Hairspray marathons, the man was practically growing his own pair of ovaries. Coaching t-ball with a group of fellow dads has allowed him to rediscover his inner jock who had until recently been holding Barbie’s purse as she tried on clothes.
If professional baseball is dull at times, kindergarten t-ball is soul-sucking, gouge-your-eyeballs-out boring. Now I’m not totally heartless – the kids are adorable when they come up to bat, and the game teaches them the importance of sportsmanship and hand/eye coordination. Even more vital, it instills in them a sense of self-confidence.
However, we can’t be surprised when our five-year-olds pick dandelions and do somersaults in the outfield. While I angrily waved at MJ to watch the game as she twirled in right field, inside I was secretly sympathizing, “I feel you, girl – this is hella boring. I don’t blame you for twirling. The only way a ball is going to be hit your way is if I switch the batter’s Capri Sun with Red Bull and NoDoz.”
Buoyed by her own t-ball experience, MJ was thrilled to learn that she and her sister would be joining Mr. P and me at the Cardinals game last Saturday night. I, on the other hand, was incredibly nervous. We had been once with the girls before, and I saw maybe one half of an inning the entire game because I was continually crawling over my poor row-mates for snack runs and pee breaks.
Saturday night proved to be no different. By the time we got to the stadium, it was already the third inning, and immediately, the kids began ranting – “It’s too hot!” “I want nachos!” “Too loud! It’s too loud!” I stuffed a steady stream of pretzels and lemonade in their mouths and prayed for another appearance by the Busch Stadium streaker.
But later on, sometime in the sixth or seventh inning, something special happened. As I sat daydreaming, wondering if the fans around me would go all judgmental if I double-fisted a couple of bratzel dogs, KT, my two-year-old, jumped out of her seat and began cheering. That’s when I saw a Cardinal cross first base.
“KT,” I exclaimed, “Were you watching the game?”
She looked at me with her “Duh, mommy” eyes and nodded. “Yes – he hit the ball and ran.”
“Well, should we watch this guy up to bat?”
“Yes. What’s he doing, mommy?”
“Why’s he doing that?”
“He’s trying to advance the runner. To get him closer to home so he can score.”
The rest of the inning, we sat transfixed on the game, and the game only. We talked about the difference between a ball and a strike, and what a double play was. We cheered when a pop fly was caught, and booed when Molina got called out at second.
When MJ asked me who everyone was, I pointed out David Freese to explain how he saved Game Six. And when the seventh inning stretch hit, KT and I sang “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” at the top of our lungs.
I know as a two-year-old KT won’t retain anything I told her that night, but for the first time in a long time, I revisited the game that fueled my childhood by experiencing it alongside her. Like thousands of kids before them, KT and MJ looked past the Budweiser-swathed stadium and the “Welcome to the Jungle” soundtrack and focused on the heart of the game.
The innocence, the inspiration, the pride – the reasons our little ones walk onto the t-ball field in the first place, and probably the reasons why my brother and I watched The Sandlot 60 times the summer of 1994.
Baseball may bore me at times, and I’m more likely to focus on my hard lemonade than the game, but whether I’m sitting at the stadium or at the t-ball field, there’s something about it that brings me home as I watch it through my kids’ eyes.
By Nicole Plegge, Lifestyle Blogger for SmartParenting
Photo ©Eric Musial