In a mild surprise, Mrs. Bootleg noticed the conflict well before I did.
My wife is heavily involved with our six-year-old son's new school and found herself on the planning committee for the annual Halloween carnival. This kid-friendly event was scheduled for Saturday, October 30 from 3:00 PM to 5:00 PM.
Mrs. Bootleg and I tend to avoid any kind of marital confrontations until we absolutely, positively MUST make a decision. So, instead of hours and hours of measured – sometimes argumentative – discussion, we settle for a few moments of really heated debate at the 11th hour. I think it's a black thing.
Without stating our respective positions to the other, I knew where Mrs. Bootleg stood and vice versa.
So, last week, I rolled the dice and bet everything on my boy. With my wife in the room, I asked Jalen which event he wanted to attend. I could've advocated a compromise – an hour at the carnival, an hour at the nearby baseball game. But, my gut told me to keep that in my back pocket. Jalen was going as a baseball player for Halloween. His love of the game HAD to be the obvious favorite, right?
Which one do you want to do, Jalen?
"Ummm…the baseball game", he impassively replied.
Mrs. Bootleg – exhibiting a level of class that I couldn't have mustered up in a million years – took Jalen's decision in stride. She'd spend the morning and early afternoon setting up the carnival at Jalen's school, drive over to support her son at the game and then, afterwards, drive back to the school for teardown and clean-up. On an unrelated note, our wedding anniversary is next Tuesday.
If Jalen had chosen unwisely, I would've been disappointed for unabashedly selfish reasons. But, as I told an eye-rolling Mrs. Bootleg on the day of J's last game: he might never play on another team THIS good again. They were simply a terrific collection of kids – free of ego, surprisingly strong on fundamentals for six, seven and eight-year-olds and the 2010 Fall League Single-A Division Champions.*
* -- In addition, while I wouldn't have used such dirty pool to sway Jalen, prior to the final game, his batting average sat at .391 (9 for 23). He couldn't miss a chance for double-digits in hits on the season AND a shot at .400, could he? No. No, he couldn't. Jalen went 2 for 4 in the finale with a pair of RBI, finishing with 11 hits and a .407 average. The venomous, "don't-rub-it-in" glint in my wife's eye when I effusively explained to Jalen, "That's higher than Ted Williams hit in '41!" was some of Mrs. Bootleg's best work, too.
Now, it's time to meet the White Team!
Jeff: The best combination of talent and personality on the team. He routinely threw out runners at first base from moderately deep short (an almost-impossible feat in this age group) and regularly offered words of encouragement to a certain black teammate who'd been driven to tears over his early-season struggles at the plate. MLB Equivalent – Pee Wee Reese
Colin: My favorite non-Jalen player on the team. I called him "superstar" for his prodigious power-hitting ability during batting practice. However, when the official game started, his mighty swings frequently came up empty. Endearingly cocky, he responded when I accidentally beaned him between the shoulder blades while throwing BP, "You don't throw hard enough to hurt me, coach." MLB Equivalent – Wily Mo Peña
Charlie #1: You know those ballplayers on small-market teams who consistently produce – not at an All-Star level, but solidly enough – while toiling in obscurity? That would be Charlie #1. Very polite, reached based at a nice rate, but that's all I remember about him. In his defense, he was categorically overshadowed by Charlie #2, whom we'll discuss in a moment. MLB Equivalent – Mark Grudzielanek
Brandon: He ran with an awkward, upright style in which his torso seemed to tilt backwards ever-so-slightly. Nevertheless, this kid could fly. At an early practice, Jalen challenged him to a race. By my son's fifth or sixth stride, he was screaming at the rapidly increasing distance between him and the back of Brandon's head, "I changed my mind! I don't wanna race anymore!" MLB Equivalent – Deion Sanders
Conner: Thoughtful, bespectacled and slightly built, in a few years he could be one of those 11-year-old molecular biology majors you read about. He and Jalen went to the same preschool and kindergarten. I've known him for a bit and he's a sweet, cerebral kid. He could learn from Jalen on how to throw a post at-bat tantrum, though. Once, after striking out, he tried to slam the head of his bat on the ground. Instead, he connected with his own knee and collapsed in a heap on home plate. MLB Equivalent – Craig Breslow
Sam: I've been a fan of the Oakland A's for nearly 30 years. However, I lost contact with my favorite team for a few years in the mid-1990s. The 1994 players' strike really turned me away from the game, as did the move into my own apartment (no cable TV) and the spectacular collapse of the once-proud Athletics franchise. There were players on those 1995-97 teams whom I barely remember. Sorry, Sam. MLB Equivalent – Kerwin Moore
Kyle: The shortest and, arguably, most adorable player on the team, he's one of those kids who gets the most out of his baseball abilities. Kyle's a scrappy throwback to a time when a dirty uniform and sprinting to first base after a walk were the only statistics that mattered – sabermetric basement-dwellers be damned.
Spencer: One of two players on the team who – to my untrained eye – had never touched a bat, ball or glove before our first practice. He'd throw with his head down and his eyes closed. His fielding was actually time-released – reacting s-l-o-w-l-y over the course of a few hours. But, he was always smiling. Before our next-to-last game, I sprinted down the first base line to manually position his feet and hands when he came to bat. His two hits that day had me smiling. MLB Equivalent – Eric Byrnes
Charlie #2: My second-favorite non-Jalen player on the team. He walked up to me at our first practice and said, "I've never played baseball before, but I've watched it on TV!" He never wore cleats, only occasionally wore socks and his batting helmet always seemed to sit over his eyes. Charlie #2 also didn't know how to throw the ball. Sad to say, I was the only one who'd play catch with him in warm-ups. By the end of the season, his throwing was at least "Little League decent". This was bittersweet for me, since his errant throws led to this almost-racist argument between him and Jalen several weeks ago:
Jalen: "Throw the ball STRAIGHT, Charlie!"
Charlie: [Frustrated and barely audible] "I'm trying to throw straight. It's hard."
Jalen: [Turning to me] "Dad, is he speaking Japanese?"
Charlie: "I'M KOREAN!"
Me: [Head explodes.]
MLB Equivalent – Hee-Seop Choi (What? He's Korean! And, I can't, in good conscience, equate Charlie #2 to budding superstar Shin-Soo Choo.)
Thank you, kids.