Batter Up

By Nancy B. Kennedy

I never imagined myself as a baseball mom. Despite a brief infatuation with the Mets during their 1986 championship season, I pretty much remained true to my book-loving, opera-going, foodie-fanatic self. But then I had a son.

Early on, it was evident that Evan would draw me back into the game. I saw that grass-green, diamond-shaped gleam in his eye while he was still a toddler.

One day, we were watching a movie about a kids’ baseball team whose hopes are riding on their bruiser of a slugger to win the championship game for them against their arch rivals.

“It’s a beautiful day for baseball!” the announcer declares as parents and grandparents pour in, filling the stands, and the game begins.

The matchup is a good one, the game is close, the lead goes back and forth between the two teams. By the bottom of the ninth, the game is tied. But all is well—it’s the top of the order for the home team and their slugger is up. The day is saved!

The pitcher digs in. He hurls the ball over the plate, a big fat strike. But the batter, Casey-like, shrugs it off. “Not my style,” the narrator intones. Steee-riiiike one! the umpire calls. The at-bat continues, the tension mounts, until finally the count is full. One final offering sails over the plate and… the batter swings and misses.

As the ball thunks into the catcher’s glove, the camera pans in slow motion around the field and across the dugout. One by one, the faces of the players and coaches fall in dismay, eyes wide and mouths gaping. I glanced over to see how Evan was taking the heartbreaking strike-out, and instead of tears, I saw a spark in his eye.

Something about that scene struck Evan’s fancy. He had us replay the strike-out over and over—both on the screen and in person. In his play room, he would mime swinging the bat, and then my husband and I—strategically placed around the room—would approximate shock and disbelief as best we could, though it’s difficult when you’re trying not to laugh.

As Evan got older and began to play with blocks, he would build elaborate baseball stadiums, complete with ticket booths, gates, seating, lights, scoreboards and concession stands. He laid down dust clothes for the infield and scouted players from among the ranks of his action figures, Playmobil characters and Lego guys. Pirates, superheroes, medieval knights, and race car drivers sat cheek-to-jowl on the dugout benches. The game would begin; the ball would fly out of the park, and Evan would scoot his players around the bases.

All would be well, the game progressing nicely, the score 101 (Evan) to nothing (me), until our Border collie, Babe, would wander out onto the field wagging her bushy tail and wreaking canine havoc in the stadium. “Mooooom! Get her out of here!” he’d cry, trying to shove the shaggy offender off the field as blocks tumbled down around us.

By the time he reached the age of four—before our odyssey of t-ball, peanut ball, rec ball, and All-Star ball began—Evan was leading us out into the back yard to play whiffle ball. Home plate was a car mat in front of the flower box, first base under the maple tree, second in front of the forsythia bush and third beside the garage. The pitcher’s mound was a worn spot in the grass behind a raised tree root.

Somehow, with just two or three players, we’d people the entire field and fill the batter’s box. As pitchers, we threw heat and as batters, we knocked bullets into the neighbor’s yard. We’d shake off signals from invisible catchers and bellow the umpire’s calls. Phantom infielders caught pop-ups and turned athletic double plays, while shadowy outfielders dove for line drives and came up with the ball every time. We’d mimic the intricate signs of the third base coach and, flailing our arms, windmill in the scoring runs.

One afternoon, it was just Evan and me out on our homemade field. It was Evan’s favorite team, the Yankees, vs. my anonymous sucker team offered up as the sacrifice of the day. No surprise—every one of my players got put out while Evan’s boys in pinstripes rounded the bases in triumphant home-run trots. As we began a middle inning with the Yankees in the field, Evan took the mound while I stepped into the batter’s box.

Now, I’m not a fearsome batter by any means—I’m lucky to make any contact at all, even on a good day. This time, I whiffed a few, as usual, but finally Evan lobbed a nice, slow arcing ball in my general direction. I took a whack and the ball flew off my bat straight at Evan.

THWACK! The ball hit him hard in the arm.

“Evan!” I cried. “Are you okay? Are you hurt?” I dropped the bat and ran the few steps out to the mound.

I rubbed Evan’s arm, which was reddening with the impact, and coo-ed my motherly coos, while he stood silently; ready, I was sure, to burst into tears. Instead, he wheeled around and without saying a word—Uh oh, he’s mad at me!—he marched over to first base. He bent over, picked up the ball and brought it back to the mound. He touched the ball to my arm.

“You’re out, Mom,” he said.

Tagged out just for being a mom! The injustice of it! But the late afternoon sun glinted through the maple leaves, igniting my son’s beautiful blond head and pooling in his serious blue eyes as he waited for me to slink back in defeat to the dugout. I laughed. It really was a beautiful day for baseball. And it has been ever since.

Nancy B. Kennedy lives in Hopewell, New Jersey, with her husband, John, and their son, Evan. She is the author of four books in the Miracles & Moments of Grace series. Other books to her credit include a book of weight loss success stories and two books of children’s science activities. She also writes articles and essays for books, magazines, and newspapers when she’s not in the stands cheering for her son’s team.