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a swerving, curving kind of light

June 19, 2010

AJ had a hard day.

It didn’t start out hard. After last night’s colossal storms, we woke up to a brilliantly sunny and not-too-hot morning. AJ bounced up early excited that after 5 delays, he was finally going to play baseball again today.

He and Mr. Spy got to the field at 10:15 for warm-ups. I rode my bike down to meet them for game time at 11. It was warm, but not too warm and there was a nice breeze. I sat down on the top of the bleachers and watched a very exciting game in which AJ and his team did everything right and shut down a team that had pounded them earlier in the season, beating them by the slaughter rule. The kids were jumping up and down with excitement, not just because they won but because if they’d lost, they would have been done for the season. Instead, they got to play again.

Game one ended at one. Game two was scheduled for five. We hooked up with Mr. Spy’s co-coach K and his son, AJ’s friend N, and headed down the street to a local tavern that has tables with umbrellas outside and a decent lunch menu. We nursed our beers and shouted across the restaurant at all the other families we knew who were also dining with their baseball players. K and his family have become very good friends over the three years he and Mr. Spy have been coaching basketball and baseball together. His wife E and I have been serving on the School Board committee together. But last week, they sold their house. They’re not moving far – less than an hour from here. But it’s far enough that we know we won’t see as much of them and AJ and N will probably never be on another team together. We’re all feeling sad about it. It’s the end of an era.

K and N are staying with their former neighbors until the season ends, so we invited them over to our place after lunch so K and N could make the lineups for the next game and AJ and N could rest (read “play video games”) until we all headed back to the ball fields for round two.

The second game didn’t go nearly as well. It started when we were thrown by playing a different team than expected. We played this team earlier in the season and the coaches are the kind that scream at the kids all the time. They are bullies and not very sportsmanlike and suck the life out of the game. They pushed their guys to the breaking point – four guys on their team left with heat exhaustion during the game (it was their second game of the day too). One of them passed out at first base. They still clobbered us, beating us by 5 runs. Our boys were tired and didn’t play as well as they had earlier. They began to get discouraged. AJ was beating himself up so badly for imagined faults that he was fighting back tears. It was a little too much for all of them.

After the game, Mr. Spy and K gathered the team together for the end of season pep talk. There were no trophies to hand out. Starting in third grade, the league stops giving trophies to everyone and instead gives them only to the top three teams in the tournament. Some of the first year boys, AJ included, were surprised and upset by this.

K and N and Mr. Spy and AJ and I lingered on the ballfield in the evening sun. It seemed anti-climactic to just go home. So we invited K and N back for dinner. We ordered a pizza and drank some of the beer K had given us when they were trying to clear out their refrigerator before their move. The boys discussed the trophy situation and asked why they didn’t get trophies. “Because when you’re older, you have to win to get trophies,” Mr. Spy said. “That’s because from here on out, winning is the only thing that matters,” K said sarcastically. But sadly, it’s also pretty true.
After dinner, when K and N left, AJ asked if I’d come outside to catch fireflies with him. We ran through the yard in the dim light of the half moon chasing the flickering lights and catching them in our cupped hands. When the mosquitoes got to be too much for us, we came inside.

I remember when chasing fireflies was enough, when the fireflies were an end in themselves, a rare privilege to stay up late and be outside in the freedom of darkness. No mosquitoes could have driven us away then.

After we came inside, AJ and I went upstairs to try to make a Father’s Day card for Mr. Spy and in an instant, he was in full sulk mode, complaining that he couldn’t think of what to draw and and shooting down every suggestion by saying that he couldn’t draw it well. Finally, I said that we needed to go to bed and we’d try again tomorrow and he completely melted down. I picked him up and sat him on my lap while he cried. I asked him if he was sad about his friend moving and he said he was, a little. I asked him if he was sad about baseball ending and he said yes. “I love it more than basketball or football and now I don’t get to play again for a whole year.” And then I got why he was upset about the missing trophy. He wanted something to remind him of the last three months he’d spent with his team, of all the work he’d put in perfecting his swing, of his hits and misses and heroic catches in the field.

I sent AJ to brush his teeth and went down to Mr. Spy’s office to see if he still had any of his old trophies I could give AJ. But instead, I found a plaque they’d given Mr. Spy as a thank you for coaching with a picture of AJ’s team. Mr. Spy doesn’t want it, so I brought it up to AJ’s room. He was in his pajamas, tucked into bed. But he smiled when he saw it. I stood it up on his trophy shelf, but he wanted it to be somewhere he could see it better, so I brought it over so he could look at it. We discussed the photo and he told me about the kids on his team and relived some of the best moments of the day’s games. He went to bed with a sleepy smile.

After I tucked him in for the night, it was my turn to be sad. I know a little how AJ feels. He’s not a little kid anymore. He’s got to work harder. The world is harsher. Your friends leave you. When you lose, people don’t applaud you just for trying. And the fireflies never glow as brightly in your hands as they do on the edges of the forest just out of your reach. Tomorrow morning we will get up again and the sun will be shining but baseball season will be over, even though you didn’t have the chance to get it just right.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. freshhell permalink
    June 20, 2010 1:44 pm

    Poor AJ. Yeah, it’s hard growing up and it’s hard watching them do it.

  2. crankygirl permalink
    June 21, 2010 1:27 pm

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Is it bad to do those little kid things that you then have to snatch away? It’s heartbreaking.

  3. June 21, 2010 1:50 pm

    I don’t think it’s necessarily bad, but I do think it’s good to be clear about what to expect. No one told the coaches or the kids, so all the first year players were expecting something. And if the coaches had known there wouldn’t be trophies, they would have given the kids something else — a certificate, a baseball card, something — so they had something to show for their work. I’m actually kind of relieved to her the trophies might be tapering off. AJ’s got 12 already, plus two medals and two inscribed basketballs. We’re running out of places to put them and he’s still got a long way to go. Everyone likes to know their presence and their work means something.

  4. Peti permalink
    June 24, 2010 9:54 pm

    That last paragraph is gorgeously written.

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