Catching a Baseball

Last weekend, a friend, who was attending a Minnesota Twins baseball game with his son, caught a baseball in the stands.  The next day, as he described the thoughts and feelings that flashed through his mind during those few seconds, it revived a memory of my own experience catching a baseball at a Twins game.

For me, it happened more than a decade ago–before blogs had been invented.  At the time, I wrote a short article for possible publication.  Now, with my own blog, I’m finally getting a chance to “publish” it.  Here it is:


Catching a Dream

It all happens in less than two seconds, without any warning. I’ve waited over thirty years, about one billion seconds, for just this moment. I’ve dreamed about it, prepared for it, and yet I’m still surprised when it happens.

The long wait started in the mid-1960’s, when I attended my first major league baseball game. My Dad and I, along with seven other father-and-son pairs, made the 200-mile trek from central Iowa to Metropolitan Stadium, home of the Minnesota Twins. Our seats were high in the stands, far down the right field line.

Following my Dad’s advice to be prepared, I had brought my baseball glove. I wore it religiously, always ready to catch a foul ball hit my way. Between innings, I slipped it off and quickly ate my hot dog and Frosty Malt. By the time the leadoff batter stepped up to the plate, the glove was back on my hand.

If I could just catch a ball, I would prove to my Dad and everyone else that I was prepared and that I was someone special.

I came home from that first game with a new Twins cap and a Twins victory. It was a great day, but it hadn’t been perfect. I didn’t catch a ball.

The next year, our father-son group made the same trip. This time I came home with a tiny 12-inch souvenir bat signed by Harmon Killebrew—but no ball. A pattern was being established.

Throughout my childhood, I faithfully brought my glove to every game. Eventually, however, my dream of bringing home a baseball faded and slipped away.

Three decades have passed, and I’m back in Minnesota. I’m becoming a Twins fan once again, after years of living on the East Coast and cheering for the Boston Red Sox. Metropolitan Stadium has long ago been torn down, replaced by an enclosed dome. Now there is a huge video screen in left field, where we all watch replays and look for our faces when the cameras sweep across the crowd between innings.

The Red Sox are in town, and my Dad has purchased three good seats—twenty-five rows up, just to the right of home plate. We make it a three-generation event—Dad, me, and Erik, my nine-year-old son. I tell Erik to bring his glove. “You should always be prepared,” I remind him. Just to prove the point, I grab my glove.

As we take our seats, I put on my glove and talk to Erik about the importance of being prepared. This is a major life lesson that I feel compelled to pass on to the next generation.

As I settle into the middle decades of my life, however, I am having doubts about the whole notion of “being prepared.” I used to think I could plan carefully for the future and thereby make my dreams come true. The events of the past few decades—getting married, having four children, zigzagging along several career paths, getting divorced, becoming a single father—have proved how unpredictable and uncontrollable life can be. I’m beginning to wonder why I spend time and energy holding on to dreams when life can take a sudden strange turn at any moment.

I don’t confide these misgivings to my son—or to my father. Instead, I bring my glove to the game and remind them both to be prepared. Between innings, however, I hide my glove in my lap. I don’t want the television camera to catch me, a respectable adult, wearing a baseball glove like a little kid.

It’s the seventh inning and the Twins are up to bat. Suddenly, without warning, it happens.

A fastball is fouled almost straight back. It zooms just to the right side of the protective screen behind the plate. I see it climbing toward me, skimming over the heads of the fans in front. It must be moving 80 miles an hour, a dangerous missile. In the scant two seconds that it takes the ball to travel to me, I have time for only three thoughts—”This could be it. Stand up. Put your glove out.”

The ball comes so quickly. I don’t have a chance to think back to that first Twins game thirty years earlier. I don’t have a chance to consider what lessons about life my son might learn from this moment. I don’t have a chance to contemplate my own mid-life doubts about fate and personal power. I just have time to stick out my glove.

Thwap!! I catch it right in the pocket of my glove. I don’t believe it’s really there until I reach in and pull it out. The fans around me are cheering. I feel flushed, excited. Should I stand up and acknowledge the applause? I glance at the big video screen to see if there will be a replay—the screen is advertising a local tire company. Confused, yet proud, I hold up my glove and wave it.

During the rest of the game, I keep touching the ball, examining it. It says, “Official Baseball, American League.” It’s scuffed and dirtier than I expected, not flawless and unblemished like in my dream.

I show it to my Dad and my son. I smile and relax.

Published in: on May 20, 2009 at 3:51 pm  Comments (1)  

The Concussion Discussion

[Note: This article was originally written for a parenting blog.]

My cell phone vibrates, and I look to see who’s calling me. A picture of my 23-year-old son peers at me from the screen. He doesn’t call that often, so my thoughts immediately start scurrying into dark corners of my mind.

Without any cheerful greeting or preamble, he says, “I thought I should call someone so you’d know where I am. I’m on my way to the Emergency Room. I had another bike accident, but I’m not hurt as bad this time.”

It has been about ten months since I had received a similar phone call from him, also on the way to the Emergency Room, also following a bicycle accident. In that previous accident, he had broken his jaw.

This is getting to be a habit I don’t particularly like. Sure, I’m glad he stays in touch, but I much prefer the kind of phone calls where he has a question for me about cooking or needs help with his resume.

“Were you wearing your helmet?”

He hadn’t been wearing one last year. And though it might not have protected him in that particular accident, he had learned his lesson about wearing a helmet—I hoped.

“Yes. And it was a good thing, too. My head left a big dent in the car’s window, and my helmet is cracked. But I think my head is fine.”

Feeling relief, I close my eyes and let out the breath I had been holding.

I’ve been thinking about helmets, safety and parenting a lot recently.

In early January, when I went downhill skiing for the first time in a decade, I didn’t even consider wearing a helmet. However, after I took a hard fall in the morning (my fault) and was sideswiped from behind in the afternoon (a reckless teenager’s fault), I realized how foolish I was not to protect myself. Next time (if there is a next time), I’ll wear a helmet.

In February, my local newspaper reported that the brother of Minnesota icon Garrison Keillor had died from head injuries suffered in a fall while ice-skating. I remember thinking, with a combination of worry and frustration, “Do we have to wear helmets while skating now? What next?”

And then, in mid-March, there was the Natasha Richardson accident. The award-winning actress fell during a ski lesson on the beginner’s slope—on the beginner’s slope!!—hitting her head. She seemed fine for several hours, but soon she was in the hospital, and she died a day later from severe head trauma.

As a parent, and as a sports participant myself, these stories scare me. How can I even consider letting my children participate in potentially dangerous sports? How much should I insist on protective wear? What are the standards these days? When is protection not enough—or too much? As a father, do I err on the side of allowing too much adventuresome behavior?

When my children were young, I always insisted that they sit in their child car seats. As they got older, I required that they always wear seat belts. It was a simple rule, and no amount of fussing, arguing or crying on their part could sway me. It’s still a rule in my car. And now they’ve made it a rule in their cars, too.

When it came to helmets for bike-riding or skateboarding, however, I wasn’t so strict. I insisted they wore helmets when they were younger, but, as they entered adolescence, I wavered. I’d remind them to wear their helmets, but I wasn’t adamant. And I didn’t impose consequences if I learned later that they went without helmets. I regret now that I hadn’t been more resolute.

Wondering about my teenagers’ current perspectives, I discussed the issue with them this week. They told me that they’d wear a helmet if they expected to be doing tricks on a bike, skateboard or snowboard (i.e., “grinds,” “grabs” and “360s” using half-pipes, rails and ramps). However, for routine occasions, they found helmets to be “uncomfortable” and “awkward.”

“If you board to McDonald’s with your friends, it’s not cool to have a helmet,” said my 15-year-old son.

How can we make it “cool” to wear helmets? Should we pass laws requiring helmets? For all children? For all adults? (Different states currently have a variety of laws when it comes to requiring helmets for bicycles, motorcycles, skateboards and skates. No state currently requires a helmet for skiing or snowboarding.)

What are our responsibilities as parents to protect our children as they get older? At what age do we start to turn the responsibility over to them? What did you (or will you) say when you talk to your child about safety, helmets and head injuries?

Have you had the concussion discussion with your child?

Published in: on May 1, 2009 at 12:10 pm  Leave a Comment