This was the big game. The bleachers were packed with parents and kids. Lights blazed down on the baseball field, giving it a real big-league feel. The boys in the dugouts were nervous and excited.
It was the bottom of the fifth inning, and our team was actually leading by one run. Andy, our son, was out in right field, and behind him, at the edge of the lights, it was dark, with the black shape of the distant mountains rising up to the stars. It was a clear and chilly night. Andy's Little League team, which had struggled all year and didn't even reach .500 in the final standings, had shocked two of the better teams to make it to this championship game. The mood was electric.
Only one out to go to the end of the inning.
The other team's left-handed slugger, a big kid who always hit long balls and had that home-run swagger when he walked, was up. He was poised at the plate like a rattlesnake, dangerous and ready to strike.
I nervously looked out Andy's way. He had never really done well in the outfield. I was shocked to see him looking straight up at the night sky. It was obvious he wasn't paying attention to the game. And I was horrified that this sixth-grade hotshot was going to launch the ball toward Andy, who wouldn't even know it was coming, and they'd score a bunch of runs and break the game wide open.
"What's he doing out there?" I hissed to my wife, Mary.
"What do you mean?" she replied.
"Well, look at him; he's not paying attention, he's goofing off! This guy's gonna hit it right to him!" I muttered.
"Relax," said my wife. "He'll be fine. It's just a game."
"Come on, Andy. Wake up out there," I said more to myself than anyone else.
I could barely watch. My body was tense. The pitch was on the way, a slow, enticing floater right in the middle of the strike zone. I squinted out at Andy, who was still gazing heavenward. "Maybe he's praying," I thought. I heard the crack of the bat. "Oh no," I said.
I was mostly worried that Andy would be really embarrassed, because he did take his performance seriously and cared what his teammates thought of him. But I also realized that I was worried I'd be embarrassed, too. I prided myself on being a supportive, not-too-pushy dad.
We'd go out and play one-on-one games, and practice catching those high flies. I always tried to make it fun, yet push hard enough that Andy would improve. And I'd always say, "Just give it your best shot."
So if Andy made a good try going after the ball and missed it - you know, ended up stretched out with the glove and eating sod, or backward over the fence - that was OK. But to miss it because he was off in a different dimension somewhere - that was embarrassing. Downright goofy. Letting the guys down. I felt all that macho sports stuff churning around inside me.
"Yes!" I shouted, as the play ended. Sluggo had grounded out to first. We (Andy and I) had been spared, and we still led by one run. It was imperative that I get Andy straightened out for the last inning.
We were sitting behind the fence near home plate, and as the kids came in from the outfield, Andy ran up to us, breathless. I was about to start my what-do-you-think-you're-doing-out-there speech when Andy exclaimed, "Did you see that shooting star? It was beautiful! It was so great. It had a long tail, and I thought it might crash into the mountain. But then it just disappeared, like someone turned the lights off inside. I wonder where it came from. It was so awesome. I wish you'd seen it!"
Andy's eyes were glowing with excitement (after all, we had spent as much time looking for meteors as we had practicing baseball). I paused. "Me too," I said. "Well, one inning to go. You guys hold 'em now. Hit a home run!"
"OK," said Andy, and he ran back to his teammates in the dugout.
Mary smiled at me. We were thinking the same thing, that it was nice our son could take time out to appreciate the wonder and beauty in life, and that it was important to him. There was plenty of time for Andy to experience the crush of team sports, the peer pressure, the "at all costs" mentality. He was still a kid, thank goodness. And I was a little chagrined that I had been temporarily caught up in the competitiveness of the game.
As we grow up, it seems we have less and less time to seek beauty and wonder. When we're adults, it's way down the list somewhere. For many of us, just keeping up on a daily basis with everything we have going on consumes most of our time and energy, and, sadly, there's not much room for shooting stars.
So every once in a while I take time out to look around, even if I'm in the middle of something I think is too important to interrupt. You might be surprised by the beauty you can find when you least expect it - on the street, in the sky, even in the corporate boardroom. And how it can make your day better (Andy had a triple in the last inning).
I wish I had seen that shooting star, too.