If your second child decides to make a surprise appearance 11 years after your first — do not try this — you may come to realize, as I have, that the passage of time has cost you the benefit of hindsight.
"Hmmm, did it take this long to get out of the house before? Has this restaurant always been so quiet? Did Austin throw temper tantrums like this?
Yes. Yes. Oh, yeah.
I was reminded of another truism recently, too late as it turned out: There is absolutely, positively no earthly reason to sign a 6-year-old up for baseball. I honestly don't know what possessed me to do such a thing. Free child care probably.
I realized I had made a mistake while watching a recent practice (disclaimer: in the Zavala household, baseball is kind of a big deal. My oldest son plays high school ball and for years I was one of those obsessive coach/dads with lineup cards sticking out of seat cushions, scorebooks and spare caps in the trunk. These days, I'm just a spectator — my schedule makes it impossible to coach, but I'm not complaining).
I batpod-weaved through traffic on my dinner break in order to get the field on time and was relieved when I arrived just as they were finishing warm-ups. The players divided into two groups in order to halve the stand-and-do-nothing monotony of BP. I was there for about an hour and a half and watched my second-born take exactly seven swings. Seven. I don't blame the coaches. They're only trying to teach the kids the fundamentals, which takes time. But having already gone through the whole youth sports thing once, and knowing that the average 6-year-old has the attention span of a dwarf hamster, I can say with confidence that about 98 percent of those batting tips aren't exactly hitting their mark. Let's face it, most of these kids aren't playing ball because they're dying to learn the intricacies of the proper swing or the difference between a four-seam fastball and two-seam fastball. No, they're there because, hey, we can hit something with this bat, and, dude, nobody's getting mad.
So I left feeling a little ripped off. But, hey, it's just practice, I thought. The games will be better, right? Right?!?
Well, sort of. Again, one and a half hours. But this time, as dedicated parents who care about our son's team, my wife and I watched each pitch, looking for something to get excited about. The coach/pitcher, bless his soul, tried so hard to make sure that every player hit the ball, but let's face it, some 6-year-olds just aren't there yet. Like ours, for instance. He tries, but either that bat is just a little too heavy or the ball is just a little too small. So you have this nice coach vs. cute kid showdown in which the coach is lobbing it in there as gently as possible and the kid is swinging with all his might, twirling, nearly falling over, resetting, the coach inching closer for another try, the kid whiffing again, the coach leaning in, his face scrunching into a painful smile, "Come on, buddy, you can do it, you can do it, one more, one more, one more. Ready?" Only it's not one more. It's about a thousand more, and "¦ the "¦swings"¦ and"¦ misses"¦ just"¦ keep"¦ coming"¦ until"¦ you"¦ just"¦ want"¦ to"¦ cry."
So yes, our son eventually struck out, mercifully. I'm not sure how many third strikes he actually got. Three or four, maybe — enough that I was actually begging under my breath for the poor kid to be put out of his misery (you know this ritual has gone on too long when the parents are actively rooting for the bad guys, clapping, possibly wagging one of those giant foam No. 1 hands). He shuffled back to the dugout with all the grace of a half-flattened poodle dragging itself off the pavement and onto the sidewalk to die.
Don't feel bad, he wasn't the only casualty. Not even close. Several kids on both teams were forced to suffer this walk of shame — head down, shoulders slumped. "It's OK, Timmy," a mom hollers. "Nice try, Billy," says another. And so on. At least at that age the kids actually take your advice to heart. Those little pick-me-ups seem to make a difference. I appreciate that now because I know what's coming. If I were to shout "Great effort, buddy, you'll get it next time," in the direction of my 17-year-old after a strikeout, he'd look at me like I just set fire to his Xbox and threw it at a puppy. So I don't do that anymore, which is fine by him and great for the puppy.
The good news is, the games have slowly improved in quality and now, as the season winds down, vaguely resemble something known as baseball. On offense, the kids usually hit the ball, often run to the correct base and once there tend to stay until they're told to run again. On defense, they try to catch and try to throw, sometimes during the same play, which is always a shock (Me: "Oh my gosh, did you see that — we just threw that kid out!" Wife: "Liar."). Small victories.
I suppose I should be thankful for progress, but the truth is he probably hasn't learned anything, in practice or in games, that he wouldn't have picked up twice as fast in our backyard. Why is that? Consider the breakdown, time-wise, of the average youth baseball game: 1 percent swinging bat, 1 percent fielding grounders or pop flies, 1 percent throwing balls, 3 percent searching for glove/cap, 4 percent begging coach to play catcher, 90 percent waiting (these numbers change only slightly as they get older; in the Major Leagues, they hire assistants to keep track of hats and gloves so the players can spend more time adjusting their cups).
The point is, next time we'll wait another year or two (or three) before signing up. That may take some convincing, however. Our 2-year-old has been practicing his swing for the past six months and if he could string together more than three words he'd probably say something like, "I'd like to play baseball now." Poor guy. He just wants to be like his big brothers.
"Sorry," I'll say. "Maybe next year." And if that doesn't work, I'll give him Austin's Xbox.
Reach Daily Tidings sports editor Joe Zavala at 541-776-4469 or firstname.lastname@example.org.