"Are the Rockets going to win today?" asks Nicholas, my 5-year-old. On this bright, sunny Saturday, he's asked the question at least 10 times.
He already knows the answer.
"Now, Nicholas," I begin, but before I can finish my speech, he interrupts with an impatient nod.
"I know, I know," he drones in a sing-songy voice. "As long as we all have fun, we all win." Something in his eyes tells me that no matter how sweetly he repeats the mantra, he is far from convinced.
After all, here sits the child who turns everything from eating breakfast to brushing teeth into a competition, who often blinks away angry tears when his younger brother defies the odds and "wins" one of their daily arbitrary contests.
Sometimes I wonder if his competitive nature stems from his desire to please or my attempts to challenge him. When his teacher told me he was one of the first in his class to begin reading, I shamelessly asked about his pint-size competition.
Nicholas begged to be allowed to play T-ball, and my husband and I agreed because we thought it would teach him about teamwork. We hadn't
thought much about the
inning and losing aspect - before this day. Now Nicholas's excitement has rubbed off on all of us.
As we pull up our lawn chairs behind the Rockets' dugout, we get our first look at our opponents, the Tigers. Dressed in crisp blue, they fan out across the field like pros. The Tigers' uniforms include leggings and black Nike cleats; the Rockets' garb pales in comparison. But it's when I see the Tigers first baseman actually catch a ball on the fly that I know we're in trouble.
I'm not the only Rockets parent amazed by the Tigers, who look like AAA material. The mom next to me wonders aloud, "Do you think they could be really small 8-year-olds? Maybe we should check birth certificates."
We bristle with parental pride, but it's still hard not to cringe when the Rockets warm up on the field. Nicholas and his teammates drift in and out of attentiveness. We urge our boys on, taking care not to yell.
All that changes when the Tigers step up to bat. As hit after hit leads to wild throw after wild throw by the Rockets, we see our sons smiling and laughing and running. They wrestle for the ball, they throw with all their hearts, they sing "Go, Tigers, go," with such innocence and joy that it's impossible not to be swept along with them.
Nicholas, the first Rocket to bat, doubles on his first swing. A subsequent pop fly leaves him confused, and he's tagged somewhere between second and third, but he's humming and smiling as he skips his way back to the dugout.
Two more quick outs end the inning, but the Tigers let more Rockets bat just for fun. We score three non-runs, but even the parents don't care anymore.
Nicholas never actually catches a ball, though he stops a couple of them with a defensive jab of his glove. He plays in the infield dirt twice and climbs the dugout fence higher than any of his teammates. I notice that he stops asking about the score after the first half-inning.
When the game is over, I stand with other parents on the field, our arms outstretched to make a bridge for members of both teams to run through. As the powerhouse Tigers and raggedy Rockets run underneath, I begin to see baseball through their eyes. The concept of winning and losing melts under the warm spring sun, transformed by giggles, high-fives, and excited chatter about next week's game.
It seems that the kids aren't the only ones who learn a valuable lesson. The parents are relaxed and laughing, whooping and hollering our support and approval. And even the least-talented player smiles like an Olympic champion under our welcoming arms.
* Elissa Sonnenberg is a freelance journalist and proud T-ball mother in Cincinnati, Ohio.
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(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor