The year is 1984. I’m lying on the carpet and occasionally pilfering pretzels from Dad’s snack bowl as we watch the Atlanta Braves fiercely lose another game. Watching the Braves bolstered my twice a week t-ball practice and allowed me to hang out with the most important man in my life, Dad. He never complained about me or my sweet sister asking too many questions or the fact we ate the majority of his pretzels.
Me: Why did that guy walk to first base?
Dad: Because the pitcher hit him with the ball.
Me: Why did he hit him?
Dad: It was an accident Amelia.
Me: Do the pitchers ever hit the batters on purpose?
Dad: Because sometimes grown men do stupid things.
Saturday morning rolls around, and I don my Arnold’s Plumbing t-ball jersey, white shorts, black-stripped tube socks and pink Velcro sneakers (hey, it was 1984 ya’ll!). I hop into the passenger seat of Dad’s car, and he lets me shift the gears from first to second and second to third. I feel so grown up and confident that I will successfully drive a standard transmission 7 years from now. We arrive at the baseball field. I grab my glove and bat and run to my teammates. Dad greets my coach in the dugout, takes a seat and pulls out his clip board with a fresh sheet of paper. My Dad assists our coach with t-ball strategy (i.e., encouraging us when we strike out, miss a ball or get tagged).
Given my underdeveloped batting skills (i.e., I whacked the tee more than the ball), my father and coach encourage me to tap the ball off the tee with the hope it would roll ever so slightly outside the dead ball line. My father gives me a high five as I exit the dugout and says, “Remember this is about having fun, A.” (Yep, my inner perfectionist was alive and well in my nine-year-old body.) I saunter up to the batter’s box, plant my pink sneakers firmly in dirt, eye the ball, take a couple of practice swings and then, “tink!” The ball rolls off the tee and slightly past the dead ball line. I’m good! I run like the wind, throwing off my batting helmet for full t-ball athletic effect. Then, I get tagged out. I jog back to the dugout where I find my Dad waiting with a high five and the encouragement of, “way to hustle in, A.” To which I lovingly reply, “It’s all your fault I got out!” Then the tears flow . . .
Dad: A, everyone who plays baseball gets out sometimes. Look at the Braves.
Me: The Braves kind of suck Dad.
Dad: Well, they’re not having the best time lately. A, this game is about having fun.
Me: Everyone plays better than me and can hit the ball.
Dad: A, I’ve seen you hit the ball. You always try and hustle in when coach calls everyone. You always cheer on your teammates. Good sportsmanship is important. Now it’s up to you whether you have fun today or not. Do you want to have fun?
Me: (sniffle, sniffle, gulp) Yes.
Dad: Give me five (We high five).
I am back up at bat. I breathe deeply, focus and “whack”! I hit a grounder that speeds past the short stop. Like a lightning bolt, I round first and land on second. My teammate is up. Jenny is good hitter, so I have an excellent chance of crossing home plate. Sure enough Jenny rockets the ball past the infield. I make it to third but hold tight once I see the right fielder scoop it up and hurl it towards the pitcher. Fortunately, her throw lacks the appropriate trajectory, and I see a prime opportunity to steal home. (Please note: t-ball practice does not include sliding into/stealing bases.) I start running and the pitcher quickly relays the ball to the catcher. The catcher steadily holds the ball in mitt over home base. I am not deterred. I thrust my scrawny arms forward, dive and slide across home. The umpire spreads his arms east and west and pronounces me, “safe!” I get up, brush the dirt off my uniform and see my Dad running towards me.
Dad: Way to go A! Did you learn that from watching the Braves with Dad?
Me: No Dad, the Braves never make it across home. But was that cool or what?
Dad: That was pretty cool A.
Happy Father’s Day Dad. Thank you for reminding me to take myself less seriously and to have fun.