Joining the Kids On the Baseball Diamond

SOMETIMES I wonder if it's possible to write anything about baseball that hasn't already been said. But then the magic of ball is that the same old story, with expanded details in each retelling, can be as captivating the hundredth time around.

This is the first year that both my children have wanted to play ball on organized teams. I'm no stranger to baseball. Having lived for 10 years with a man who loved the sport with a passion as great as mine for the garden, I carry odd details about the game around with me, though I just barely keep up with the major teams in the paper.

Just before he died, my husband told me that he was a southpaw like Mickey Mantle, his initials were M. M., he'd played the same position in city-league ball, and they were born on the same day. "What do you think about that?" he asked me.

"I think," I told him, "that truth is stranger than fiction."

The present truth is that baseball is, once again, taking over our home.

My daughter, who is six, has signed up for T-ball. The ball used is called a "soft-tee" and is lighter and more pliable than my son's baseball. His is the kind that makes me want to duck when he wings it my way.

"Mom," he says, "you're avoiding the ball."

"Absolutely," I tell him.

My daughter's ball is a little easier to catch, but only slightly, as her arm has the strength of someone twice her age. "I've found my sport," she said the other day.

She is heady with power and keeps a steady monologue of comments about how I should throw or catch the ball. Move over M. M.

Many parents have been through this before me, and there will be many after me, trying to figure out how to transport kids to two practices a week at the time of year when every other obligation seems to be burgeoning as prolifically as the spring flowers. I figure the worst that can happen is that the two different teams my children are on will practice on four separate days, and their games will be three hours apart on Saturday, or worse, at the same time.

Last night my son and I played catch while my daughter took her bath. I suspect he felt better after the session. I know I didn't. He's been spending some time with his best friend's dad throwing, catching, and getting some good pointers. He's improved a lot. And now I'm counting on him to help me. Parenting, once again, has reversed itself.

"It isn't easy raising a single mom," says my son at dinner.

I thought when my family signed up to play ball, I would buy a big floppy straw hat and sit up in the bleachers sipping lemonade, waving when my son or daughter looked my way. But my daughter wants me to play catch with her at the practices. And if I continue to toss the ball back and forth with m son, I may not be able to lift my arm to wave. I've conceded that the hat I'll have to buy will be adjustable in the back with what looks like a duck's bill jutting out from my forehead.

And perhaps the biggest disillusionment is that I'm not in as good shape as I thought I was. My upper body feels sore and fragile, like it used to when I fell off my bike.

Last night, I sunk into bed with the peace and contentment that comes at the end of a busy, productive, and exhausting day. I was just at the place of near sleep, when the print in the book I was reading started to blur, and the clock's buzz grew fainter ... it was at that moment I knew I couldn't rest yet.

I hauled my body out of bed, made sure the kids were asleep, and positioned myself against the wall. Twelve, 13, 14 upright push-ups, and my arms turned to pasta. Ten sit-ups, and I felt as though I was punched in the stomach. By the end of the month, I should improve....

As I slid back into sleep, a vision of the slender matron under the straw hat lazily drifted out of sight as the prevailing winds blew in the sweat-soaked image of a woman - burning, stretching, cheering.

I laboriously raised my arm to turn out the bedroom light. I thought how life has never been quite what I thought it would be.

That being said, take me out to the ballgame.

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