Thursday, June 22, 2017

Fathers of shortstops and baseball. baseball and more baseball.

                He thought possibly he had come to understand the axiom You just live with it.
                Yes, he thought, you don't confront and overcome it; you don't accept it stoically;
                 you just carry it around like a tumor and ignore the black lines that spread along
                 the veins.
                                        James Lee Burke
                                        (From short story Taking a second look)

Summer officially started yesterday and millions of people will increase their interest of our national pastime.....Baseball.  The debate can be made for most popular sport but after everything is said and done, nothing comes close to how baseball resides in the national psyche.  Now of course the expression everything said and done opens a very wide chasm regarding who thinks what about what and who is one person to say what someone else thinks regarding what millions of people might or might not be doing during the summer.

It's a conundrum of sorts but then again please let me know what isn't a conundrum of sorts except of course that at this very moment in time you are reading these grouped letters.....and in truth you might just have stopped reading these grouped letters and decided you have much better things to do.

I can't worry about that and therefore I shall continue with the simple idea that not only are you still reading but you might be asking  And where's the baseball stuff?

Please remember that I get three strikes before heading back to the bench so imagine that the count is 3-2 and I'm about to foul off 20 pitches in a row.

Whether I get a hit at the end or make an out matters little if I manage to consume that much of your precious time.  You are the umpire of this piece and hopefully an instant replay won't be needed.

There are approximately 2.6 million Little League participants in America and about 6 million total baseball players between the ages of 6 and 17 when you add other baseball organizations. That number increases even further when you consider kids playing outside of organized teams.  Let's just round the number up to 8 million and include all softball players.

If you then mix ages 17- 22 and include every high school and college team and then throw in adult leagues and professional teams from Independent leagues and finally add teams that are affiliated with Major League Baseball from Single A to the parent team, of which there are 30 members, you probably have close to 10 million participants in the sport of baseball.

Now add 74 million people who attended Major League Baseball games in 2016 and there is no denying that the sport of Baseball plays a major role in who we are as Americans.

The fact that there are only 750 adult males in the United States who play the sport at it's highest level should give you an indication of how difficult the game is......

Every father who coaches in Little league and has the privilege of watching his son or daughter be the shortstop of his team has a unique perspective of the process.

The shortstop is the heart of the team when it comes to youth baseball.  That actually doesn't really change as the level of competition rises but arguably other positions can start to dominate depending of course on the individual talent of any one player at any one position.  Right field is where you try to hide your weakest player but tell that to Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth. The center fielder can become legendary but most likely he was the shortstop in Little League.



Catchers end up being managers and coaches but that's another story for another time.

Today we are focusing on shortstops and what it's like to have a son as your shortstop.

The pride of having a son who is also the shortstop can only be experienced by a father whose son is the shortstop.  In the last 15 years there are most likely some fathers whose daughters are the shortstop and that pride settles on another level.

I'm not diminishing the pride that any parent has for their child, no matter what position they play in any sport, but having the shortstop be your child just sits on a slightly higher plane.

I can't even imagine how a father feels whose son is still playing shortstop at the Major League level.

Currently there are only 30 of those men.....and probably only 20 who feel secure that their son will the shortstop next year.  Shortstops have a tendency to move to third base or the outfield due to the simple fact that another shortstop comes along who is just a tad bit better.

The memories of my son playing shortstop have taken on entirely new dimensions and have reached heights of flawless perfection that I know can't possibly be real.  The reasons for this potential inflationary perspective is quite simple.....he only got to a certain level before he changed levels in a much bigger game so I've enhanced every single moment because....I've just had to live with it.

Life can be compared to a game when one considers rules, regulations, expectations, practice and execution and when I recall how Sean approached the game of baseball from the age of 3, I fully understand why he was the shortstop.

The physical fluidity with which he moved on the field was easily recognized by anyone who loved the game of baseball.  His throwing motion was correct and his fielding was as smooth as smooth can be.
In my opinion he would have become a center fielder because his natural ability to go catch fly balls was simply obvious.  He taught himself at the age of four how to catch balls that he threw in the air....and he would do it for hours on end.  By the time he was 6 and entering T-Ball he could catch fly balls better than most 12 year olds.

Little League shortstops are also usually the best pitchers and Sean had some amazing moments on the mound but generally wasn't excited about pitching.  He found it very hard to accept players making errors in the field, while he was on the mound.  He much preferred to be in charge of the infield.
But when I look back on those times I can remember when his pitching exploits made him really proud and excited.  The look on his face after pitching 9 innings in Malibu during the All-Stars tournament against North Venice is still something that I will always remember.  He was in charge of his emotions and he knew how to fool batters as well as blow them away.  It was an epic moment and I think he proved to himself that he could go as far as he wanted in the sport. Advancing up the chain of competition in baseball is a hard thing to predict and it usually comes down to an individuals desire to work harder than anyone else.  After high school the competition becomes unbelievable due to the fact that all the shortstops are now playing other positions and they are really really great baseball players.

Imagine an All-League shortstop at a Los Angeles High School goes to a college and his competition is an All-State shortstop from Ohio and then he gets drafted and reports to a Single A minor league team and his competition is an All-American shortstop from Stanford....and then he makes the Major league team and his competition is Corey Seager.  Baseball is an extremely hard sport to excel at and predicting any players future at the age of 15 is really a crap shoot....except for Bryce Harper who appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated when he was 16.  That's just a flat out freakin anomaly.

Being proud of my son was not hard since most everything he did he did well.  His writing ability was obvious and his artistic renderings are still captivating to look at.  He drew things in min-scale and math was easy for him so his spacial perspective was spot on and he planned on being an architect....after his baseball career was finished, of course.

I've often told people that he was the best shortstop I've actually ever personally known and I get odd looks from time to time depending of course how on little or how much the person I'm talking to cares about baseball.  If I'm talking to a father who had the honor of coaching his son and who actually played shortstop then that person knows exactly what I'm talking about.

Knowing that we will never know how good he could have become as a shortstop
just makes it an incomplete baseball story.  Wondering about what he could have accomplished as a human being makes it an incomplete human story.

The baseball part of the story has actual memories.

I've had many people in the last 23 years ask how I've been able to deal with it and I always make remarks like......"who says I have?" But last night while reading a short story by James Lee Burke the words at the top of this piece just made complete sense.


Every baseball game I watch and every baseball game I listen to has a moment when I see Sean field a ball or stretch a single into a double.....that's just the way it his when you lose your shortstop long before the game has ended.

Things he might have achieved in life as an adult don't really come up because I never saw him as an adult....but I sure saw him play shortstop and he was really really really good.
The best shortstop I ever personally knew......

......and the only son I will ever have.

"You don't confront it and you don't overcome just live with it"

Michael Timothy McAlevey

By the way.....if you haven't read James Lee Burke....shame on you.
Sentence construction and descriptions...... best I've ever read
from living writer.

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