My son Jalen has been playing organized baseball or T-ball since he was four-years-old. Mrs. Bootleg and I took him to his first Major League Baseball game when he was about four-months-old. As I started typing this post, Jalen was watching a DVD on the history of the World Series. I went halfway downstairs and called out, "What year is the video on?" Jalen -- wearing his A's hat backwards and a weathered ball glove on his left hand -- responded, "1948. See? It's Bob Feller."
Believe it or not, Jalen isn't all that different from any other seven-year-old. He'd eat pepperoni pizza and chocolate chip cookies at every meal, if he could. At any given moment, approximately 50% of our DVR space is filled with saved cartoons or live-action children's programming.* And, Jalen reacts to his own bodily functions with a suffocating cascade of laughter. He's also WAY into baseball.
* -- Jalen recently discovered Tom & Jerry cartoons. Mrs. Bootleg is apparently seeing them for the first time, too. She was absolutely aghast to witness one of the characters pull out a cartoonish six-shooter in a western-themed bit. In another short; hammers, anvils and frying pans are used to...well, they're used in a manner that MIGHT void their respective warranties. In still another episode, Tom is taking long drags from a cigarette. Mrs. Bootleg was raised as an old black woman BY old black women. She didn't watch cartoons. When my wife was Jalen's age, she was primarily into Motown on wax and no-lye relaxers. Clearly, her immature virtues are all screwed up.
Some of you might not know this, but I'm kinda-sorta into baseball, myself. Since we're a little more than halfway through the 2011 Little League "Rookies" Division season, it seemed like a good time to give you the view from the Red Sox's dugout to my spot in the first base coach's box all the way down to the ground floor -- where the occasional child's shoe might need to be tied.
March 30 -- It was an Opening Day rematch between our Red Sox and the Rangers - unquestionably the best team in the league. It was also my birthday and, admittedly, this mischievous thought crossed my mind. Karma was not kind. Jalen went 0 for 4 -- still his only hitless game of the season -- and the Red Sox lost big. Though, as birthday gifts go, this game kept on giving.
There was my completely unintentional, albeit borderline blasphemous pose. Jalen -- whose defense often evokes the classic "Catch 22" nickname of former MLB journeyman Luis Polonia -- flashed some solid leather, including an unassisted double play. And, the parents in charge of postgame "snacks" brought McDonald's for everyone. (I'm almost certain the whole "kids get clobbered before their spirits are lifted by fast food" script was a legitimate McDonald's commercial in the 1980s.)
Jalen was awarded a game ball by the Red Sox's manager in recognition of his glovework. On my birthday.
April 14 -- Our Little League district took two weeks off for Spring Break. While Jalen was out of school; we enrolled him in another round of baseball camp at the Frozen Ropes facility and hoped that his skill set wouldn't totally erode. He hadn't played a real game in 15 days when, during breakfast, he excitedly told me, "I'm feeling REALLY confident about the game today!" I was instantly tickled by my son using such an empty, oft-uttered sports cliché so emphatically. But, as his father, it's my job to reflexively obliterate his high expectations. Over bowls of cereal, I taught Jalen words like "rusty" and explained phrases such as "...getting your timing back...". When I warned him of baseball's ability to humble even the best players, Jalen's blank-faced response spoke volumes. He went 4 for 4.
April 16 -- It turns out my "humbling" speech came 48 hours too early. On a 90-degree Saturday afternoon, the League dispatched us to a dusty auxiliary field for our 3:00 PM game against the Orioles. We were only a few hundred yards from where we usually play, but our kids never seemed comfortable in their relatively unfamiliar surroundings. Here's a quick sketch that better expresses their collective anxiety. Jalen was 0 for 3 -- sulking after each out, ignoring supportive high-fives from teammates and turning his back to the encouragement and advice of the other coaches. If there weren't dozens of credible witnesses around, I'd have gone "black parent in public" on my son. Instead, I silently seethed while my bloodstream combusted. In his last at-bat -- with our team trailing by five runs -- Jalen reached on an infield single and... celebrated like this. I wanted to boo him SO BAD.
April 20 -- Five days after "Jackie Robinson Day"** was celebrated throughout Major League Baseball, the Red Sox returned to our usual field to face the Cardinals. This was a special day for me as every black player in the eight-team "Rookies" division was on the field at the same time. All three of them! Seriously. The Red Sox -- IRONY! -- have two and the Cardinals have one (coincidentally, he lives four doors down from Stately Bootleg Manor). I literally had to slink out of the office to coach this game as a high-pressure, competitive proposal effort was really heating up. I returned to work after the game and didn't get home until almost 10:00 PM. I regret nothing.
** -- Major League Baseball has created a website to honor the legacy of Jackie Robinson. I covered this on Twitter, but if you missed it, the site includes tributes from those he inspired...like three-fifth funny, former ballplayer Kevin Millar and, of course, Diddy. The Diddy video clip is GOLD, y'all. He awkwardly references the Black Panthers and casually rattles off his definitive list of important African-Americans ("Obama...Oprah...me.")
April 22 -- All season long, whenever one of our players has reached first base with less than two outs, I say the same thing: "If it's on the ground, you run. If it's in the air, you freeze." Now, a few kids parrot it back to me before I can finish the sentence. Jalen probably learned it a year or two before his teammates. But, there's one little boy on the Red Sox who's good for a few baserunning gaffes per game. On this Friday afternoon, he elevated his effort as he was doubled off first base twice AND the final out in an unassisted triple play. My exasperated pleas ("Stephen, get back! Get back! Stephen! GET BACK!") surely ruined some parent's well-intended videotaping of the game.
April 23 -- Early season rainouts resulted in some midseason rescheduling. So, following our 5:00 PM Friday night game was this 9:00 AM Saturday morning game. Most of our kids were cranky and barely half-awake. One of our outfielders played the entire game with a nosebleed that would NOT stop. Our third baseman sat out an inning after taking a line drive off his stomach. And, the manager's daughter burst into hysterical tears when she was forced out while running the bases.
I don't want this season to end.