I took my grandson to the ball diamond up the hill to launch a new model rocket a while back. It was perfect. We had three engines for three flights, having assembled and painted the rocket during several days before.
Following the last flight, I got overcome by nostalgia as the character of the diamond overcame me while Adan was running after the drifting parachute and I started back to the car.
For a boy, a sporting field can seem a matter of life and death. In a few-minute period, all history evaporates and the future depends on success. Screw up now, and everybody will think you are a loser. It may not be true, but it’s real.
I was a loser, not once, but time after time for two years. It was on swim team. I was fast. I was particularly fast in freestyle. In fact, I was so fast nobody within 100 miles could touch me. Kilometers were not invented back then. Nobody, that is, but Joe Tisch. Tisch was not only faster than me, he was always faster. He never had an off day, and I never got lucky. I never beat him, even once. To complicate things, Tisch and I were on the same team. He always won blue; I always won red in freestyle.
Tisch was never arrogant or uppity. In the water he was pure business. Nonetheless, I was fiercely determined to beat him, and, as I said, I never did.
What I learned there was that I was needed. When we swam the freestyle relay, Tisch was fast, but never fast enough to make up for three slows. When I was not there, our team lost. With me leading off and Tisch cleaning up, we never lost. There is a need for second place.
Our neighbourhood loved tackle football. Nobody had any equipment. I think the attitude of the adults was that we were kids and likely could do no damage. Rob Cromwell was a moose with an attitude. Cromwell was always picked first, and the rest of that team were his friends. I was always on the other team.
My team’s quarterback always faced me off against Cromwell because I was the biggest offering we had. So the ball would get hiked, they would hand off to Cromwell, he would run at me, I would step aside and hope somebody else could catch him and we would lose. People started calling names.
One day, I knew I had to face my nemesis. The ball was hiked, handed to Cromwell and here he came, knees pumping up and down like the driving wheels on a steam engine and murder in his eyes. I picked my spot, waited my time and launched. One piston-driving knee caught me under the chin and sparkles and whistles went off everywhere.
It took a second, but I shook it off in time to see Cromwell laying on the ground, crying, and one of our team picking up the football and running for a touchdown. Sometimes it’s your job and you either do it or you lose.
Baseball. Grade 7. It was a big game, as we got to play under lights.
It was my up. The bases were loaded. (Don’t get ahead of me, here. No grand-slam.) I was facing a pitcher with a huge reputation for a fast pitch and a fast temper. The count, of course, was full.
I was limber, then, and I started to move my weight back over my back foot and crouch. I kept going until my left knee actually was above my left shoulder, leaving no legal strike zone. The pitch came and the umpire called a ball, I walked and the benches emptied. When it calmed down, I was on first and we had scored a run. I am not arguing for the legality of that; it just happened.
The next time I came up it was the 7th (and last) inning. The pitcher’s posture gave him away. He was mad, and I was certain he was going to try to hit me. As I said, he had the reputation.
I took my place in the batter’s box and watched the wind-up. As the pitch flew, I stepped back out of the batter’s box, swung right where my ear had been and watched the ball sail over the right-field fence. Chaos. I learned at least a dozen new words that night and we won.
Sometimes you need to dump protocol.
Wrestling came later. I was 6 feet, 3 inches and wrestled at 133 pounds. I was really quite strong from summers baling hay, walking beans and fighting pigs. Strong and fast. I didn’t lose every wrestling match, but close enough. What I learned from wrestling is that you can always sum up your opponent in advance of actual contact, and tall, skinny people should not bother with wrestling, no matter how strong and fast you are.
The fact is, I was not good at sports and not very interested, overall. The vignettes above happened, and they flooded back as I walked back to the car and Adan chased the parachute. Adan is nine, and has all of his challenges ahead. I want him to do well, not because it’s important to be good at sports or to win, but to earn a few vignettes. At minimum, he can use them to bore my great-grandsons, if and when they come around.
And, once in a while, he may be facing an adult-world Cromwell and need to take one on the chin, or he may have an adult-world Tisch, to whom he has to pass that baton. He may have to break protocol to defeat a cheater, and he may need to learn that some things are just best left alone. More importantly, he may need to sum up which is which in advance of actual contact.
At minimum, I hope he gets it: that life as an adult simply must make time for sunny days with soft winds, grandsons with model rockets and a minute to count time.