When my oldest son, R, was 6 he discovered baseball. He*loved* baseball. He was good at it and it was a boy sport and the coaches were men and this was all important because he was being raised by a single mom. I went with it.
He played PONY league, always made the All-Star team and eventually went on to play AAU travel ball. I, in the meantime, drank my way to oblivion with a few other parents at the back of the bleachers. I want to say it was a different time. I want to pretend that I didn’t do those things I did like drink beer after beer, inning after inning, on the top bench of the bleachers with my cronies, The Drunk, Loud Parents. But I did. Then I would load all of my kids into the Bronco and drive home. Yes. I drove drunk with my kids in the car. I’m not absolutely positive that it was a different time but I, definitely, was a different person. (I’ll save the reasons why I was that person for the therapist’s couch. That part is not something I will ever share with the internet.)
We all lived through the ridiculous times and changed for the better, in the end. Funny how baseball sort of saved all of us. That’s the story I want to tell because by the time my son won All Conference Center Fielder of the Year his Senior year in high school, I would never have considered drinking at one of his games, much less driving after doing so. For the record, he played 129 innings without an error that year.
So, back to first grade when he was The Home Run King and I was the Hot Mom in a mini-skirt and cowboy boots. We were archetypal. We were really living large back in 1993. That year I don’t think I really settled in because T-ball is a morning sport but over the next 3 years, whoa, things really got crazy.
My son was one of maybe two players in our league who were really good ball players whose father’s didn’t coach. An old baseball league joke is that the All Star Team is really the Coach’s Sons Club. It is a basic truth and not just because the coaches vote for their own sons. Their sons are usually the best players. My kid just happened to be good at baseball despite the fact that his dad was ‘unavailable’ most of the time. He played well because he was smart and athletic and dedicated and because he practiced. I learned how to catch a baseball, throw a baseball, tell a strike from a ball, because my kid practiced a lot and I practiced with him.
Once, at a party, I was speaking to a man who coached one of the other teams in our league and age division (his son was a kick-ass ball player) and we started talking baseball. He told me about this kid he really wanted to coach, “He’s like Bugs Bunny,’ the guy said, “He pitches, then he runs behind the plate and catches his own pitch, then he throws the ball to third, runs out and catches it and makes the play.” It was pretty funny. My date was beside himself and finally told the coach that the kid he was talking about was my son. He was 7 that year and it was his first year on the All Star team. The guy at the party was one of the coaches. R didn’t see any play during the tournament season. It was hard on him but he stuck it out. I watched. I stewed over his lack of playing time. I basted
myself the stew, with beer.
It’s amazing how easy it is to find people to drink with at youth baseball games. Looking back now, I’m astonished. I was more The Rule than an exception to it. Mainly, I drank with the dads but there were moms, too. We all became fast friends, partied together on weekends. Brawled sometimes. Made up. The kids ran like a pack of wolves and played hard against each other when the time came. This was the first group of people I had met in my adult life who accepted me even though I was single and relatively nice looking. They became my friends even though I was pretty fucked up. They were too. We all are, when it comes right down to it, the rest is only a matter of degree.
Through these people, thanks to these people, R began playing AAU baseball. His coaches were a father-son pair. Yes, the son/grandson played on the team. Of course, he was the pitcher. A damn good one. These men were religious. Christian. They acted like they loved every kid on the team. They took care of them. When they wanted to say ‘Goddamn,’ they said, ‘John Brown.’ The son-coach and his wife fought like tigers at every tournament we ever went to. They always made up, laughing. They didn’t drink. In fact, in R’s years on that team, there was only ever one other parent that drank at games and watching that happen made me lose my taste for drinking at games. Slowly I changed. I jogged during warm ups and drank Pepsi during games. I drove home sober. We loved these families who provided role models, not only for my son but for me as well.
Then my son was accepted to a local prep school where athletics were an expected part of school life. The school was expensive. The people were ‘classy.’ Nobody. Drank. At. Games. In fact, nobody hollered at the umpires. Sometimes ‘classy’ meant these folks conducted themselves beautifully and sometimes they just acted as if they were better. These were not usually the same people. To say the least, it took me a few years to feel as if I fit in. My son? Not so much. He was a star from the beginning. Not a star as in The Best Player Ever. A star as in A Kid Who is Talented and who also Has a Great Work Ethic. By then I was remarried and wearing chinos and polos. The mini skirt and cowboy boots were at the back of the closet, no longer representative of who I was or who I wanted to be.
It’s shocking to me to look back at the confused young mother I was from the vantage point of solid middle-age. Life is a progression and everyone changes but somehow, it seems that I/we changed more than normal people do. Sure there were other contributing factors but I am absolutely positive that we would be different people if we had never been baseball. crazy.