When I was a kid, my overactive imagination caused me to obsess over some pretty irrational fears. Particularly dealing with what my parents might have in store for me.
For example, perhaps the smallest infraction would result in them enrolling me in one of those military schools advertised in the back of my mom’s Ladies’ Home Journal. Or maybe next summer I really would be put on the first plane headed to Athens to spend a couple of months with my dad’s extended family in Greece.
But what really scared me was the idea they’d make me play Little League. That was far more likely to occur than attending Oakridge Military Academy or passing a summer chasing goats with my cousins through the mountains of Arcadia.
My older brothers had played. My dad had coached. I’d even been a batboy!
Ironically, I liked baseball. I still do — and not just because of the players’ tight pants. As a kid I was even slightly good at it. The key word here is “slightly.” But I knew I’d be like almost every other gay kid, exiled to the outfield due to my preference for chasing butterflies rather than fly balls.
So you can imagine my angst when Gus announced he wanted to play baseball this summer. He’s never played before, but he didn’t care. He wanted to try.
I couldn’t very well pawn off my gay childhood insecurities on to him. If he was brave enough to give it shot, who am I to stand in his way. So we signed him up.
For Gus’ age group, a parent/coach pitches. There are no outs and no one keeps score. Each kid bats until he (or she) gets a hit and everyone runs the bases. It’s all over after two innings.
That didn’t sound too bad.
My palms were sweating as we walked into the Spence Eccles Field House for orientation. Gus was assigned his team — the Royals — and received his cap and jersey.
I immediately noticed a pattern: sons came with their dads (or an occasional mom). Except for ours. He came with both his dads. At first the coach was flummoxed about whom to address, but soon figured it was best to try talking to both of us.
“Coach” takes the game pretty seriously. So does his kid. We’re the only team that has batting practice before the games.
At that first practice, Coach surprised me by asking me to help. I knew it. My nightmare had come true. I was being forced to play Little League, and as I had always predicted, I was sent to the outfield.
As I headed out to field any balls that actually might be hit that far, I saw Gus’ face. He was grinning from ear to ear. His dad had been asked to help. His dad!
In that moment, Gus gave me the validation I’d never even allowed the boys I grew up with the chance to offer me. It took me over 35 years to face my self-imposed fears about Little League, but I did.
I suppose the doubts you have about your athletic abilities are slightly more evolved in your 40s than when you’re 10. After all, no matter how bad at baseball I am, I’m still better than these kids. Well, most of them. Well, some of them.
So I fielded the balls that practice. Yes, some of them raced through my legs. Sometimes the coach had to jump to catch the balls I threw back to him. But it was fun. When the other team showed up and we started to play, he asked me to catch.
Tonight I coached first base.
When Gus steps to the plate, I’m there to cheer him on, gently reminding him to choke up on the bat and to keep his eye on the ball. When he reaches first base, I’m waiting for him. We give each other a high-five and he smiles.
At this stage of Gus’ baseball career everything is about having fun. So what if the line-up morphs into a pile of squirming 6-year-old boys inflicting “indian burns” on each other? Who cares if players toss their mitts into the air or do somersaults in the outfield? They’re having fun. That’s the lesson Gus’ Little League experience is teaching me. I could have had fun.
It’s as if Gus is hellbent on having a normal, straight-boy childhood. Even the other day we were talking about possibly spending some time next summer in Greece visiting my cousin and her family. When I asked Gus his opinion, he simply said, “Can I stay there by myself without you and Papa for a couple weeks?”
I guess I can always hope he finds the military school ads in the back of my mom’s magazines!