Special/Signature Issues » Home Style

Around the House: Hand in Glove

The rules of the game

by

comment
"Noooooooooo!" he howled. He gazed at us as if we'd suggested removing fingernails with gardening shears.

We asked why.

"I just don't want to," he said.

We discussed amongst ourselves, judged his argument lacking and signed him up. That afternoon I went to Target and found a black glove, size 10 inches, and a baseball. I tossed it to him as I picked him up after school.

"Oh, Dad," he breathed, awestruck. "I didn't think I'd get a glove."

The glove changed everything. He pestered me to play catch the whole drive home. We stood in the grass of the front yard and I tossed him the ball. He caught it in the mitt — thwack — and threw it back. I caught it, wincing — my unprotected hand stung — and tossed it to him again: Thwack. Ow. Thwack. Ow. Thwack.

After 20 minutes, my left hand vibrated like bees. So did the boy. "Dad, can we do this again tomorrow?"

Yeah, right. Ow. Soon as my hand recovers.

A few days later came his first baseball practice. He met the other kids on the team — all boys, by the way — and the coaches. He threw the ball to the other boys, teammates now, and caught the ones they threw back. He did fine.

This mattered to me, because I had never been on a team growing up. I had lived in other countries for most of my boyhood (my parents worked for the State Department), and chances to play Little League were a bit thin in Afghanistan, West Africa and Brazil.

Where I grew up, we didn't have houses with tidy yards where kids played catch with baseballs. Instead, we lived in houses surrounded by high walls, in neighborhoods where chickens were beheaded and spun themselves into the dust, in countries where the national sport was revolution or f£tbol or the brutal horse battle the Afghans call the game of buzkhazi. Not baseball.

I had heard of the game, don't get me wrong. At some point a scuffed ball and battered mitt had appeared in my toy chest, so my older brother and I threw it around a little. But that was about it — until I returned to the States at age 13.

By then I had played baseball for a grand total of about 30 minutes. My classmates, even the most nerdy of them, had played pickup games for years. So you can imagine how well things went at gym class when the P.E. teacher walked us out to the field and put a bat in my hand. "Stand there," he explained. "Swing at the ball. Hit it."

I looked at the bat. I looked at the tiny ball. It seemed impossible, and I said so.

The coach laughed. "It's easy."

I tell you now: It was not.

Actually, I prefer not to think about it, if you don't mind. Can we move on? Thank you. Let's just say baseball and I stayed far apart for the next 25 years. Until this spring.

After his first practice the boy was excited to be on a team — uniforms had been promised. We tossed the ball back and forth in the yard (thwack, ow, thwack, ow), and it occurred to me that I had never been in a grassy suburban yard like this one when I was growing up. I had no memory of playing catch with my father. Lots of good memories, but none of playing catch.

The next day I picked up the boy after work. "Can we toss the ball, Dad?" he asked.

"Sure," I said, and showed him the baseball glove I'd picked up that afternoon. It was tan pebbled leather, just a cheap mitt from the sporting-goods store. But to judge from the boy's face, it might have been A-Rod's.

That afternoon we stood in the yard, throwing the ball back and forth — thwack, thwack, thwack — as the slanting sun cut across the trees. Glove to glove to glove.

Add a comment