I played baseball. My boy is a baseball player.
This statement would have seemed absurd a year ago. It was then that K. decided he wanted to play baseball. So, we bought some baseballs and a cheap glove and tried to throw the ball around. He couldn't catch it - he was afraid of it. A natural reaction. I remember being afraid of that hard ball when I was first starting to play when I was 10. So, I tossed lightly to him so he could get used to the ball coming at him and landing in his glove. After a few weeks, he got it. Then, I could really throw it to him. He also wanted to learn to bat, of course. His older nephews had given him bats from their little league days, but they seemed a lot beat up and a little too heavy for him. I showed him the proper stance - knees bent, bat back, step to the ball, head down, contact. Well, in theory anyway. The whole fear of the ball coming at you reared its ugly head again, manifested this time in stepping back instead of toward the incoming pitch. Flashback 35 years to a schoolyard practice and a coach putting a lineup of bats just behind a kid learning to bat - one step backward and said kid finds himself on his backside. So, out came the rest of the too heavy beat up bats to be placed perfectly behind K. Stepping backward problem solved. We continued to practice in the yard and at the park over the summer, as well as taking in the local minor league teams to soak up as much baseball as possible.
Then came the opportunity to play real baseball. K signed up for a fall league, which here is much more laid back and more just so the boys don't get rusty over the long offseason until spring. The Bearcats agreed to let him play with them as a season-long tryout. He got his jersey, a leftover from a kid who wasn't very good and quit - #99, the "cursed jersey" according to his teammates. During his first game warmup, he missed a catch and took a ball to the face - bloody nose. He shook it off and got out on the field. First at bat - beaned right in the knee. He dropped the bat and ran to first base. As the fall days got shorter, he got better. He could throw the ball across the infield from 3rd base to 1st base. He could catch the ball most of the time. And in his last at bat of the season, he got his very first hit. K was finally playing baseball. A couple of weeks after the season ended, the coach sent an email asking if K would be a permanent member of the team. He made it. The "curse" of the #99 jersey had been lifted. We continued to throw the ball and take batting practice until the days were too short and too cold. And he continued to get more confident.
Spring rolled around and practice began. K fit in with his team now and he improved by the week. He was asked to pitch to the coach in practice one night. He didn't have much velocity, he's a small kid after all, but he was accurate. Early in the season, he was told he might pitch an inning. When it came around, he pitched like a pro - giving up no runs and striking out two hitters. He was getting more confident at the plate, putting the ball in play and getting on base regularly.
A couple of weeks ago, I noticed something different about how K plays the game. He has "it," whatever "it" is. Whenever he bats, he has the correct mechanics most of the time. He has an incredible eye for the strike zone. He often gets two quick strikes, but then he will work the count full and either take a walk, or get a hit. Incredible plate discipline. He steps out of the box, takes a full practice swing. Incredible concentration. When he pitches, he has "it" down, too. He holds the ball in front of his face before the windup. He rubs the ball down between batters. He wipes the sweat from his forehead with his hat. He has all the nuances of a real baseball player. At his game a couple of days ago, we were warming up together and I was tossing him ground balls on the infield. He free hand was going right on top of his glove and covering the ball as it entered the pocket. I had never noticed him doing this before and asked, "where'd you get that?" He just simply shrugged and said, "I don't know." It was at that point that I thought about all these other little things and his comment that I realized it. He pitched two innings in that game, holding a two-run lead in his first inning shutting the other team down. In his team's next at bat, they scored the maximum five runs and put the game safely out of reach. They went on to win, beating a team that had not lost yet this season.
A year ago, K could barely catch a baseball. Now, he's a real baseball player.