On occasion, my eight-year-old son Jalen is too intense for his good.
Board games, for example, are an especially painful chore. Beginning with "Candy Land" and "Chutes & Ladders" up through "Sorry!" and "Monopoly"; I've begun to wonder if we shouldn't confine "family game night" to Jalen's room since that's where he invariably ends up. Although, that would rob my wife and I of the sight of our son trudging upstairs -- in tears -- while belching out, "I don't wanna be bank-roop!"
He brings the same "bank-roop"-averse mood to sports. His basketball career unceremoniously ended after he was, uh...asked to leave the court for playing defense like this. J has similarly struggled in soccer. He likes it just fine, but his kicking skills are commercial worthy -- right down to the guttural "Arrgh!" Anyways, after a minute or two of running, J puts his hands on his hips and expends just enough energy to remain mostly upright.
* -- I cannot BELIEVE I never wrote about this. I'll be generous and say Jalen was simply attempting to set an illegal moving screen. Next thing I knew, one child was flat on his back and J was being escorted off the court by the referee. He did get back into the game as everyone knew he certainly wasn't trying to hurt the other player. J spent the rest of that game pleading with the referee to call a foul on any player who came within 10 feet of HIM, because...of course he did.
In baseball, Jalen's gotten a bit better at managing his emotions.
He's no longer kicking over ice chests -- as he did during an extended hitless stretch to begin his first fall season in 2010. He's much more encouraging and doesn't criticize teammates -- as he did during a game that eliminated us from the postseason playoffs in 2011. And, he takes the occasional in-game struggle in stride -- wait, no...we're still working on this one.
Jalen WILL be ejected from a Little League game at some point. It almost happened in our next to last game of this fall season. (But, we'll get into that in the next "LL Chronicles".) He wants to do well. He wants to win. And, there simply aren't enough italics to articulate his intensity in this regard. But, again, he's now TRYING to channel those feelings in a more constructive and positive spirit.
After our initial set of bullpen sessions, J was ready to scrap the fastball idea and rely solely on his 35 MPH appetizer. He stuck with it, though, and for the first time I can remember, he directed his intensity into trying to succeed, instead of running from failure. His early results with the four-seamer were mixed. He threw it almost exclusively in our first two fall games, giving up a run in two innings. He then got clobbered in the next game to the tune of five runs.
The old, uh, young Jalen would've been inconsolable. Now, he couldn't wait until our next game. J got the start and gave up just a run in two innings. The following game was our fifth of the season. It coincided with the improbable run to the postseason by our beloved Oakland Athletics. One of Jalen's favorite A's players is closer Grant Balfour -- a tightly-wound Aussie whose over-the-top mound demeanor includes bulging neck veins, one-man motivational screaming and random broadcasted expletives capable of shattering the sound barrier. (Guess which part Jalen enjoys most.) Collectively, A's fans refer to it as "Balfour Rage".
But, there are some things not even "J Rage" can conquer.
Down to 8 kids for Little League game tomorrow. Now, my son has 101 degree fever. "I wanna play. Don't tell mom", he said. Inspiring. RIGHT? -- from my Twitter feed, October 12
We were playing the 9:00AM game and things didn't look promising that morning.
Son's temperature is up to 102. He *might* not be able to make his 900AM Little League game. (Hoping THAT explains the ice bath to my wife.) -- from Twitter, October 13
When I left the house -- about an hour before game time so that I could help set up the field -- Jalen was curled up on the couch. He still wanted to play, but it wasn't looking good. As his father, I knew what I had to do: leave the final decision in his mother's hands and let HER be the one to emotionally eviscerate him.
So, my son DID make it to his baseball game. 101 fever. Went 1 for 2. In his words: "I didn't wanna end my consecutive games played streak." -- from Twitter, October 13
Mrs. Bootleg is a wonderful mother. She'd never risk the health of our child. But, she also knows what the game means to Jalen. And, she knows I'd never risk the health of our child. He jogged onto the field about 10 minutes before first pitch. When I told him he wouldn't be pitching, he didn't put up a fight. THAT'S when I knew how bad he must've felt.
We played a much more experienced team from a neighboring community and lost 7-5. My players were undeniably intimidated early -- digging a 4-0 deficit after the top of the first -- but, we battled back. Unfortunately, we simply ran out of innings. Jalen was absolutely on fumes by the end, but he played the whole game. I'm not naive enough to think my son inspired his teammates since no one knew the context of his participation that day.
But, there was someone in the dugout who continues to be inspired by the child who came into this world nine weeks early with that same fighting spirit. And, let's be honest...I'm just glad he got through it.
Urgent care w/8-year-old son. Wife ignoring doctor's take that playing baseball w/101 fever had nothing to do w/his current condition. -- from Twitter, October 14
But, he's fine! Now!