I just stood there behind the fence watching the coaches’ faces. They were intense. I had never seen this kind of tryout. As a kid, I had played baseball myself for nine years. I had been told it wasn’t a “tryout.” It was supposed to resemble an assessment, a let-us-see the player’s skill level and then choose our teams. All twelve coaches stood on the second base line with clipboards and pencils. It seemed like they were already judging the lineup of boys. Perhaps, I should have worked with my son more prior to this day. Perhaps, this wasn’t the right sport after all. Perhaps, T-ball was as far as he needed to go. I prayed he understood the directions the one coach was yelling out.
“I’m going to call you three at a time. If I call your name first you are to man first base. The second name I call will man second base. The third name I call will be our runner, who will stand at home and run the bases. The coach at home plate will then hit a grounder to either the first baseman or second baseman. Should the ball go to the second baseman and I call out get two, you are to step on second base and then throw it to first. If I call second only, step on second, and then throw it back to me as I will be standing in as the pitcher. If the ball is hit to first base, simply field it and step on the bag. Got it?”
“Oh damn,” I thought. I had never reviewed any of this with him. My face felt flushed.
Thank God his name was not called immediately. I was hoping this would give him time to observe the exercise and mimic when it was his turn. I stared at him to see if was absorbing the idea of the activity. He caught my stare and just looked at me with the most tender wide mouth smile. Somehow he was at peace floating in a sea of baseball testosterone. It was almost like he was assuring me that I hadn’t failed him, but I had certainly not prepared him.
The exercise ran its course through three or four rounds before his name was called. And, when it was called he almost acted as if he didn’t know his name or was just taken by surprise that someone was even speaking to him. He didn’t move. The coach yelled his name again. This time he raised his hand. That was not exactly the response the coach expected to get. Finally, the coach walked over to him and asked if his name was Noah. He nodded and offered his up his ungloved hand as if the coach had intention of shaking it. The coach then grabbed Noah by the shoulder and led him to the second base field position.
“Alright, let’s get this going!” he yelled.
The coach at home plate then hit a grounder to Noah. As the ball rolled toward him, the main coach yelled, “Get one!”
Noah missed the ball with his glove hand, but luckily slowed it down with his foot. He then ran behind himself like a dog chasing his tail to recover his fumble. Once he had the ball in his hand he then threw it back to the coach leading the exercise from the pitcher’s mound; after all, he was the one that had shaken his hand. The coach was completely thrown off guard.
“No, I said tag second,” the coach then threw the ball back to Noah.
Noah missed it, but stood still not at all worried that the ball was even lost behind him.
“Now, go get the ball and tag second.” the coach instructed.
Noah turned around and walked casually to the ball. At this point the “runner” had firmly planted himself at second base. There was no real point in tagging second at this point. I was hoping that was Noah’s thought as well, but instead he wound up and threw the ball to first baseman. This got a “what the hell” arm response from the kid first.
As if somehow synchronized, the entire sideline of clipboard clenching coaches all marked something on their legal pads. I imagined the words “not mine” being written on each pad.
It was then time to rotate the players. Noah was now going to be the running the bases. The two other players took their positions. Based on their ready field position, there was no doubt that their dads had been coaching them since they came out of the womb. I could tell they were hungry to impress and getting Noah out was going to be like watching a baby wildebeest fleeing from a family of aggressive boy lions trying to please their dad.
I was standing behind the home plate fence. All I could say to Noah was that I loved him and reminded him to run fast. It felt like I was sending him to an impending death. This single line of expression to my son caught the attention of all the surrounding parental eyes.
I could suddenly feel the judgment of all the coaches, fathers and mothers, possibly even baseball scouts.
The question had been answered, “Whose was this kid?”
Noah turned to me with his wide lipped smile and said, “Thanks dad.”
Just one year ago we had experienced our first year of T-ball together. Unfortunately, his age had required that he move up to the next level of play this year. I wasn’t sure what was supposed to have happened in that one year span of time, but we obviously hadn’t gotten there. These other kids carried monogrammed baseball bat bags, and in these bags, were an assortment of wooden and metal bats of various weights and lengths. We came with just one glove, the same glove that had served us well during T-ball.
The coach at home plate hit a grounder to second. The other coach yelled, “Get one!”
Noah stood watching, he forgot he was supposed to run. The coach at home plate finally looked down at him and said, “Run to first son.” Noah had no “fight or flight” in him, and this coach egging him on was certainly not going to make him feel a need to develop it now. Besides, he had his own secret weapon.
The second base fielder had now thrown the ball to first and with one single bounce secured in the glove of the first baseman’s, at that point Noah started to run. I could see it in his face he was all serious and I was not surprised at all when he displayed his fast flat hands to the onlookers and naysayers. You see, when his hands were flat with his fingers pointed in the direction he wanted to run, he believed they cut through the wind thusly accelerating his speed. He was a flash of glorious light limited only by lanky Bambi thin legs and feet he had not grown into, but he was magnificent in his mind.
He was magnificent in my mind too. Like a switch had gone off in my mind, I suddenly lost the embarrassment I felt for him, the judging, the onlookers questioning glares and I cheered for the fastest boy I knew. I was proud to be the father of the fastest kid alive!
“You go Noah! That a boy!”
By the time he reached his target, the first base man had already thrown the ball back to the coach on the pitcher’s mound. But, in Noah’s mind he reached first before the ball ever showed up. He then turned and looked at me, gave me that same smile along with me his signature thumbs up. We were in this together and we were champions.
It was now time to rotate one last time, but this time he would be manning first, which meant a ball would be thrown at him and potentially at a high speed.
I didn’t care anymore and he was still feeling the adrenaline of supposedly having beaten the throw to first. Before they could start though, the pitcher’s mound coach had to remind Noah to actually not stand on top of the base.
Noah repositioned himself and exercise continued. The ball was hit to the second baseman and fielded admirably. The coach yelled, “Get one!”
The fielder then threw the ball at Noah. Luckily he over threw it and it sailed far above Noah’s head and into the fencing. Noah just stood there not knowing what to do since he didn’t have the ball. This time I yelled, “Go get the ball Noah, it’s behind you by the fence!” This got him into action and he followed my instruction though the runner had now reached first and was headed to second. The pitcher’s mound coach then yelled at Noah again, “Throw the ball to second!”
That however, was not anywhere in the original instructions given for this task, it was a foreign idea. So, Noah went back to first base and stood there triumphantly holding the ball in the air for everyone to admire.
The pitcher’s mound coach yelled again, “Throw it to second!”
Noah reached back and threw it…right back to the coach. In turn, the coach received the oncoming ball straight to his groin.
“Way to go Noah!” I yelled, “You are awesome! Nice job buddy!”
That was the end of our tryout and we left the field rather quickly. Once in my hand’s grasp, Noah just looked up at me proudly as we held each others hands. I could see he thought he had done an admirable job, and as a father learning more about my highly sensitive son, I felt good too.
We returned home that night to Kiersten and our baby girl Grace. They were ready to celebrate, so we did.
Two weeks later we received a call from a really nice sounding coach saying that Noah was on his team, but he had forgotten to call and tell us. We had already missed one practice. I told him that we had gotten out of that baseball tryout all that we needed.
Noah never asked about why he wasn’t playing that season nor did he ever ask to return to the field and play baseball. I think in his mind, he felt had conquered that game and I felt I had conquered a little something myself that day too. It was now time to move on to the next Lego modeling adventure!