Opening Day, 2017

The Little Man, and his team, the “Red” Nationals, played their first baseball game of the season this week, a 6-2 victory over the “Blue” Nationals that was called after five innings due to darkness.

This is the Little Man’s first year playing kid-pitch baseball, and the team did a good job against the four pitchers they faced over five innings. The Red Nationals swatted 11 hits, including two triples and a home run. They had only six strikeouts, pretty remarkable for their first time facing another kid as an opposing pitcher. In the field, the Red Nationals held the Blue Nationals two just two runs, both scored in the fifth inning. Red pitching dominated, with a total of 14 strikeouts against their blue rivals.

The days are getting longer, and with an active second grader and kindergartener, to say nothing of a seven-month old, the lengthening days are more than just solar mechanics. I was in the office at 6 am on the day of the first baseball game of the season. The game itself didn’t start until 6:10 pm, and was finally called at 7:40 when a watercolor splash of reds and oranges tinged the clouds billowing in the west.

Spring means baseball, a constant in my life as far back as I can remember. I started by watching games with my dad, mostly on television, but now and then at the stadium. At some point, I started to play. My memory of learning to play baseball is like my memory of learning to walk: there isn’t a time I can think of when I didn’t know how to do it. It is almost as if I was born with the rules of baseball imprinted in my DNA. Three strikes is an out. Four balls is a walk. A pop fly to the infield with fewer than two outs and a force at third base is an automatic out.

The same is true with throwing a ball, catching a ball, and hitting a ball. As far back as my memory goes, I could do it.

At some point, when I was eight years old or so, I began to play baseball. I played for years, and then I became a spectator, and a student of the game and its history. Now, it seems, the cycle has started all over again, but instead of me taking the field at one of my Little League games, it is the Little Man and his friends.

It is a delightful experience to watch them play. They mess around at practices, act silly, don’t always listen to the coaches. But when they took the field for their first game this week, it was all business. They looked like professionals. No one was goofing around in the field. They played their positions, and took the game seriously. And yet you could see in their eyes that they were having fun. In the fourth inning, when a come-backer was knocked to the pitcher, he fielded the ball gracefully, took his time, and made the throw to first to get the out. It looked like a miniature version of a perfectly executed major league play, and the kids cheered at their smooth execution.

Perhaps more than anything else, the kids learn from experience in baseball. And baseball is a fast teacher. In the third inning with a runner of first base, the next batter of the Red Nationals hit a blistering line drive at the Blue Nationals first baseman. The runner took off at the crack of the bat and was halfway to second when the Blue Nationals first baseman caught the ball (out!) and casually ran to touch first base (out!) and then back to dugout after the inning-ending double-play. The next time that Red Nationals runner was on first, he was much more aware of balls hit into the air.

The Little Man came up to bat twice. He took the first pitch, a ball (“Good eye!”) and then popped the second pitch up to first base for an out. On his next at bat, he drew a 2-2 count before swinging a little late at a low strike for the final out of the fourth inning. But he walked away with a smile on his face, got his glove, and hat, and ran out to take his position on the field, a bundle of energy and enthusiasm.

Baseball is back!