Since the end of Little League Baseball's fall season, my six-year-old son Jalen has remained in close contact with the game. During both Thanksgiving and Christmas week, he attended baseball camp at a nearby
* -- In truth, the Frozen Ropes facility is a pretty cool place. Jalen seemed to respect the staff -- comprised of mostly former college players and minor league washouts. Meanwhile, Mrs. Bootleg seemed to appreciate the trainers' still-chiseled builds -- their upper bodies accentuated with ill-fitting Under Armour apparel -- and how, in my wife's words: "[Some of the trainers] just come up and give me a hug when I drop off or pick up Jalen!"
In addition, for the past month and a half, we've been regularly meeting up with some of Jalen's former teammates to practice hitting and fielding drills. Now, don't tell anyone, but I probably enjoy these outings more than my son. Y'see, when the kids are hitting, the fathers are in the field. And, I'll be the first one to admit that SOME of us take too much pleasure in turning 6-4-3 double plays against children.**
** -- It happened during our first practice. I was playing second base and Jalen was the runner on first. The batter hit a slow roller to the shortstop who flipped the ball to me for the first out. Knowing that my overly-intense son would be (poorly) attempting some sort of takeout slide or -- more likely -- sliding into the bag
Tryouts for the spring season were held this past Saturday. After last year's tryout adventure, I assumed my son would be more comfortable with the chaotic Little League meat market scene. Jalen's greatest baseball trait is his enthusiasm and I was counting on that to get us out the door and over to the field where we'd wait...and wait...and wait for his turn to take three swings, field three grounders and shag three pop flies.
We Are Family!: The local Little League community is extremely close-knit. This poses a problem for me since I am the worst person on earth at remembering names and faces. Mrs. Bootleg, on the other hand, can remember everyone's names, faces AND their respective back-stories after one casual conversation. Since she wasn't with us, I was reduced to the role of this guy.
I Remember You!: As Jalen and I navigated the multitude of mothers, fathers, prospective players and accompanying siblings; we were stopped several times by people whose faces seemed to light up at the sight of my son. He was remembered as the little boy who knocked over the catcher in a home plate collision during t-ball or the kid who "called his shot" before an at-bat last spring or the player who's uniform was consistently the dirtiest. Jalen was nonplussed by the pleasantries and couldn't be bothered to help out his old man.
Me: "Jalen, who was that?"
Jalen: "That was Joseph's dad."
Me: "OK, but do you happen to remember his name?"
Jalen: "I think it's 'Joseph's dad'."
Power Mad: One of the least palatable aspect of my day job is dealing with the administrative assistants of upper, upper management. Many are dismissive, condescending and believe they wield as much authoritative sway as the VPs they support. But, they've got nothing on the leaders of American youth sports leagues. At tryouts, the director of our league's district -- armed with a shrill megaphone -- told kids where to stand, told parents where not to stand and offered shrieking reminders every two minutes or so. It was like I was back in high school.
I Got the Fever: When Jalen's group was finally called into the dugout, I took a seat high atop the metal bleachers behind home plate. Moments later, I was joined by the mother of another child in my son's group. At this point, I should mention that I've been carrying a really bad cold for almost two weeks. I made some hoarse, congested conversation with the woman next to me, but after a few minutes I felt flushed all over. It was a warm morning -- on the way to an 80 degree day -- my head was tilted backwards, my mouth was noticeably open and the faucet of "fever sweat" couldn't be capped. See for yourself. I picked a terrible day to wear a gray t-shirt.
"Now Batting...": I can already tell that Jalen is going to be one of those high-maintenance hitters. If even one inconsequential component of his at-bat regimen is out of sync, he'll need time to put his whole approach back together. Call him "Negro Garciaparra". As he walked to the plate and prepared to hit off the pitching machine, it happened. "Now batting...Jalen Cameron!" Jalen had never heard his name announced over the public address system before. He stopped three feet from the batter's box, instantly flashed a silly grin and anxiously looked around as if he wanted to hear it again.
Magellan Jalen: After his three swings, Jalen set up at short and fielded three groundballs. From there, he moved into short left field. My son is...not an outfielder. And, the machine that was feeding him fly balls was shooting them higher than any Little League bat could possibly loft a pop-up. Jalen held his own, even though his outfield routes bore an uncanny resemblance to a certain comic strip.
Get ready for six more months of this, kids.