Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year’s Baseball Glove

The best Christmas gift I received this year was the reaction on my son Sid's face when he opened the box containing a new baseball glove. It was a look of joy and appreciation. Not at getting a new possession. The glove meant more: it meant hope promise, joy and opportunity.

During Fall baseball this past October, Sid's glove disappeared in a case of mistaken identity. During batting practice, he glove went missing. What was left behind in the batting cage was a glove that looked a lot like his, slightly older and smaller, but at first glance and even at second glance, looked enough like Sid's to mistake the two gloves.

We are guessing that the glove left behind in its place was itself a borrowed or second hand glove because the name on it did not match or resemble the name or family name of anyone signed up for the league or clinics that autumn and the numbers I called from the phone book matching the name were not missing a glove nor had any children that age playing baseball.

Still, we both handled the grief over the loss quite well and Sid finished the season with my glove, a worn, slightly larger, Derek Jeter model, which worked quite well for him, even though he prefers second base to Jeter's short stop.

It was sad to lose the mitt regardless. Sid had taken a couple of summers to completely break it in and, as many of us will remember from our childhood, baseball gloves are the kinds of precious things we sleep with at night and that fuel our fields of dreams.

The lost glove sadness was overtaken as Sid continued on with a conviction like the Whos of Whoville after their Christmas presents had been taken. Each inning, he ran out to his position with dad's beat up but more-than-functional glove and played the game he loves the most. He was not going to let the loss of his possession ruin his chance at celebrating on the green grass and ag-lime base paths.

With the help of his aunt Jennifer and my good fortune at finding the last of last year's models at one of the sporting goods stores, which meant that it was about 40 percent of the price of this year's model, Sid has a new glove to break in. We started the process the day after Christmas, in this rare warm-aired and brown-grassed winter.

On the 26th, we went over to the park near grandma and grandpa's house with two of Sid's cousins and his uncle Michael and played catch, hot box—and we played long enough to make it official.

We played long enough to stir our hot stove dreams of the coming season, which have been spliced with a smattering of newspaper pieces about players and for whom they will play in the upcoming season. And roused by activities like Sid's school History Day project that is largely about baseball's free agency and the biggest hero of that piece of history, the late St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Curt Flood. (
Sid presenting 4th grade biography project to Biography Day guests.

Sid is learning that baseball isn't just about the game, which it is. It's only a game, but it is also about life; it is about the politics that we cannot avoid and it is one of our strongest parallels to American culture and history. It is an ongoing lesson about small-and large-scale justice, on and off the field. It is about how to care who wins and what we win—and what we lose; how to love those things in the right way, appreciating them when we have them and letting go when they are gone.

I think deep down, these must be lessons that we, as kids, yearn for and maybe are as much a reason we play so hard as for the fun of the game. Maybe that is why Sid has done three class projects on Jackie Robinson, one on the 1919 (Chicago White Sox) Black Sox scandal and now Curt Flood.

Not long ago, Sid took his Brooklyn Dodgers replica baseball hat to a chess tournament. We originally got it to go with a costume he had for his Biography Day presentation several years ago, playing Jackie Robinson, of course. During one of the rounds of chess play, it got lost.

He's not a little kid anymore, and it seems that losing the hat did not phase him as he continued to play. At the end of the chess tournament, we looked all over the tournament area for it, finally finding it at the officials' table in the gym. As he and I walked out, I noticed that he was a little weepy. He wasn't going to cry. He does not cry easily these days, but I had to ask him if something was wrong.

He said, “Well, the hat really means a lot to me.” At that moment, my idea of what the hat meant to him turned into a strong mental and emotional knowledge. I knew it was an important hat, even wearing it during Little League when he was younger instead of the team issued hats of the same color. One of his grandmothers remarked that baseball season how proud he was of it.

But what he carried home with him after the tournament, wore on the baseball field and for his history day project was more than just a floppy piece of sewn Dodger Blue cloth with a bill; it is a badge of so many things he and other young people need and want to learn about the joys and sorrows of our stories—of life. It tells us we have something to unwrap every day, things that will elate us and bring us tears.

Maybe that is the lesson for the coming year—a lesson from the last one. I am still learning, and maybe this coming year will be better, smarter and more joyful than the last. I hope it will be for you.

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