No Longer a Rookie

No Longer a Rookie

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: A Tribute to Moms

No Longer a Rookie

Few of us go through life without taking part in some kind of rite of passage.

Hank Nuwer

My son Noah was called up to the “Big Show” this year. No baseball scouts, no tryouts. All he had to do was turn nine years old, which he did in October, making him ineligible for the younger Rookie League.

It was time to move up to the Minor Leagues, the Big Time. He was thrilled, because he was now able to wear real baseball socks. As for me? My heart began a slow climb up my chest and into my throat where it has remained for the last several weeks.

You see, I loved the Rookie League. It was still nurturing enough with just the right amount of action. The Rookie League was a welcome oasis from T-ball, which was adorable for about the first two innings of the season but then dragged on like a merry-go-round that wouldn’t stop. For a mom who always cried at the end of The Bad News Bears, the Rookie League was exactly what baseball should be; every kid got to play every position, and each one coveted the day when they could wear the catcher’s gear. There was a pitching machine that only threw strikes, and the hitter got five strikes, not three, before called out. We cheered our kids when they forgot to run, threw to the wrong base, or did the “I-gotta-pee” dance out in left field. There was also a snack schedule.

But the Minors? It was, pardon the expression, a whole new ballgame.

By the time kids made it to the Minor League, the weaker players had mostly dropped out. So while my son was middle of the pack in the Rookie League, he suddenly found himself lacking the prowess and knowledge shared by the other kids. In other words, he was at the end of the batting order and inevitably played the outfield.

Wow, these nine- and ten-year-olds were talented! They could pitch strikes. They could steal bases. They could catch pop flies. Everyone hit. It was no longer fun to be the catcher; it was downright scary. What were we thinking, throwing our kid into this mix? I worried to myself. Oh, that’s right—Noah said he wanted to play.

So I attended each game with fifty percent trepidation and fifty percent prayer. I watched as the boys warmed up on the field, throwing balls to one another. Thwack! Thwack! Thwack! My son’s glove didn’t make that noise. In fact, he caught about one of every five balls. I suddenly and inexplicably hated my husband for not drilling him on how to catch a ball so that it made the “thwack” noise. Then Noah took a rebound off his glove right to the nose—for the third time that season. I watched the tears come to his eyes as he tried to shake it off. I saw him mouth the words “I’m okay” to himself. He kept playing. My heart hurt. I wanted to cry, too. Baseball was fast becoming no longer fun for me. I wondered, Is it fun for him?

In my little folding chair, set up with all the other parents along the first-base line, I listened to the voices in my head. The coaches are very good and fair. (Please spend a little extra time with my kid.) The kids are nice. (Please don’t say anything mean to my boy when he misses the fly ball.) It’s a sunny day. (Please let a spontaneous storm come along so this can all be over.) But the game went on. It was Noah’s turn to bat. Swing. Strike One. Swing. Strike Two. The pitcher wound up again and delivered a ball that Noah must have thought was too inside; he cringed and the ball serendipitously hit the bat and dribbled about five feet in front of home plate. Noah just stared at it.

“RUN!” was the collective advice from nearly everyone present.

He did, taking advantage of the fielders who didn’t quite know what to do with the accidental bunt. He had a single, and his grin was as wide as ever. With a high-five from coach, Noah did a little dance. I cheered, quickly swallowing the vomit that had risen during the last ten seconds of play.

The inning ended, and Noah cheerfully trotted out to the field. This was fun for him. It was then I realized what this particular baseball season was all about. It all made perfect sense; at some point in life, you are rewarded in places where you have talent. I realized that baseball was not going to be Noah’s destination, but he was having fun with the journey, despite my misguided instincts to protect him.

But what about this mother’s heart? I’m happy to report that it has left my throat and is now out in center field, with Noah. He is every bit a minor leaguer, but his mother will always be a rookie.

Emily Mendell

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