Baseball season ended last month for Douglas. I am humbled by the amount of work he put in.
He was the Shortstop and Team Captain on four different teams: the Atascadero Reds, the Atascadero Little League Travel Team, the Atascadero Little League All-Stars and the Atascadero Rivercats.
He attended 72 practices and scrimmages.
He played in 59 games.
Along the way he made a lot of new friends. All great players and kids.
Doug’s sports success is not indicative of what kind of parent I am. Having an athlete who is coachable, a great teammate, mentally tough, puts the work in, tries their best and brings joy to the game is what matters.
We’re both looking forward to Opening Day next Spring.
Last May 10th Douglas was pitching a game when he took a line drive to his right shin. The thunk was so loud all the parents heard it in the bleachers. Never in my years of coaching Little League Baseball have I seen a pitcher take a shot like that. The Doctor diagnosed a fractured Tibia and put a full leg cast on for 6 weeks. His season was over.
Douglas was 10 years old at the time, playing in the Majors division. The Division was made up of 10-12 year olds, with league age being determined on May 31st. The batter that hit the line drive was turning 13 the following month. He had 6 inches on Douglas, and nearly 3 additional years of development.
This year the Atascadero Little League re-aligned the division to be more in line with Babe Ruth Baseball. The Majors now moves to an 11-13 year-old bracket. That meant Douglas would be playing with 8th graders. Douglas is in 5th grade.
Two years ago Douglas was one of only two 9 year-olds pitching in AAA. We won the district championships that year. Last year he moved up into Majors. He was the only 10 year-old actively pitching in the division. At the time of his injury, he had the lowest ERA on the team. Yes, he’s that good.
Douglas is still feeling the effects of that hit. He’s a little scared of the ball when I throw hard at him during catch. I though about him, a 5th grader, playing against kids that are nearly in high school. I thought about sending him back down to AAA level, and how that would dull his love of the game. I thought about him playing well above his age level for the last two years and how he was always intimidated in the early part of the season.
I made the decision to sit him out for this season. He took the news hard.
My thinking is that he would have a tough year in baseball. He’s not over the fear of being on the mound and facing batters. The difference between an 11 year-old and a nearly 14 year-old player is more pronounced that the the differential on a 10-13 year-old pairing.
I gotta admit that I have some parental self-interest in this decision. Never again do I want to witness the pain that Douglas incurred on that day nearly a year ago. I hope I made the best decision for Douglas.
It never made sense to me: Why should play a character that I didn’t want to be?
The year was 1967. I had moved into the neighborhood the prior year. Clarencedale Avenue was all things to a little boy – a wide, tree-lined street, expansive yards and lots of trees to climb. The block was built on the site of an apple orchard. Everyone had an old apple tree or three in their yard.
Clarencedale had lots of boys near my age. John, Teddy, Scott, Randy, Mike, Tony, Sam, Rich, Kevin, Mark and Richard. We played baseball on the corner lot on Southern Boulevard and football in the yard next to our house. It was a plethora of small-town ambiance mixed into a mill-town existence.
Star Trek had begun playing on TV. My friends and I were mesmerized. We started to play-act the show. Teddy would be Scotty and John played Doctor McCoy. I wanted to be Captain Kirk. Our friend Scott Speirs thought otherwise.
Scott was one of those pugnacious kids, everything he had or was involved in was the best, and he’d let you know it. He had a Schwinn Sting Ray, he’d tell me it was better than my Western Flyer. His Dad’s Chevrolet Caprice convertible was “higher-class” than Mom’s AMC Gremlin. His Hot Wheels collection was awesome, he had the Red Baron car. He had the GI Joe Arctic Soldier ensemble, with the miniature snow-white M-14 rifle and matching snow suit.
Scott couldn’t ride a bike to save his life. He never talked about his absentee Dad who was an abusive alcoholic. Scott never took his Hot Wheels cars out of their display case to play with. Same with the GI Joe stuff. Scott was all talk and no action.
Scott always insisted on playing Captain Kirk. Scott told me I was Spock because I was smart like Spock. I resented that for two reasons.
First, I associated Spock’s Vulcan ears with my Cleft Palette. I hated that association because I wanted to be normal like all my other friends. I just wanted to fit in.
Secondly, I was the fastest, most athletic. I was the best baseball player. No one could tackle me in our backyard football games. No one schemed as well against our up-street adversaries, in countless raids against a numerically superior gang we usually won. I was the leader of our gang. That made me, as Spock would say, the logical choice for Kirk.
Scott never agreed I played a better Captain Kirk. I regret I didn’t have the confidence to stand up to a bully like Scott. I watch Douglas play with his friends and how he’s emerging in the mold of a Captain Kirk. That makes me smile.
A child’s bond with his or her parents is the most precious thing in the universe. It is special and very important to a child’s healthy development.
Why some of my neighbors and in-laws suggested to my kids that I had something to do with their Mom’s death is unfathomable. Their meddling into a situation that they had no understanding of is reprehensible.
Those seeds of doubt they planted into my children’s minds has done more harm than their grieving over their Mother’s death. For that, I can never forgive them.
This past Friday Douglas had some of his friends over for a sleepover. Saturday morning the boys got up early and went outside to ride their scooters. They had cobbled a psuedo-skatepark in the driveway with some scrap lumber. I was watching the boys doing their tricks when I had an epiphany. What if the neighbors across the creek still had our old half-pipe? And if they did, were they ready to let us have it back?
So I crossed the creek towards their house, turned right, and there it was! Our old ramp was sitting on the curb with a “Free” sign on it. Thirty minutes later it probably would have been gone. I yelled to the boys to hurry over. When Doug saw the ramp his face lit up with joy. I told them to squat on the ramp and don’t let anyone else take it. I borrowed a friend’s pickup. We ended up tearing the old, rotted decking because it was too heavy to lift into the bed of the truck.
We got it home and assessed the damage. Other than the decking and one bottom spar, the ramp was in good condition. Doug and I began to rehab the ramp by removing all the old screws that had pulled through the rotted decking. We gave it a thorough power washing and called it a day to let it dry.
Early Sunday morning Alex went to the lumberyard and bought a new 4’x8′ sheet of plywood. Doug and I went about replacing most of the old screws with longer, Torx screws. Once we did that, we re-positioned some of the spars to make a better transition from asphalt to ramp. Doug’s friend Forrest was there to help us as we laid down the new sheet and screwed it down. We graded the area level and positioned the ramp, staked it in place and bolted a strip of sheet metal to the bottom lip.
Douglas and his friends were on it until it got dark. He and the girls are happy to have it back.
Both of the girls asked me why I had given the ramp away. Truth be told, I hadn’t. About five years ago I came home one day from the office and saw the ramp was gone. I asked Janet where the ramp was, thinking someone had stolen it. She told me that she gave it to the neighbors because “their son needed it”.
Janet never liked seeing the kids and me playing on the quarter-pipe. Somehow it violated her sense of self, where she had to control us. The kids and I spent many hours riding on the ramp and just goofing off. Janet asked me to get rid of the ramp, never giving a rational reason to do such. Every time I said no.
It’s revitalizing to have the ramp back. We’re going to have a lot more good memories on it.