The very first time I took my son to a baseball game was a Twins-White Sox game at the Cell. It was a pretty good experience, with a Justin Morneau three-run bomb being the game-winning hit while Juan Uribe hit a solo shot for the Sox that almost made it to us in the bleachers. The boy was younger then, and was bored to tears so he kind of fell asleep after the stretch. Later on, we’ve always gone to Wrigley Field thanks to generous friends and discounted/free tickets that I otherwise scored. He got to run the bases after a Sunday game once and had a blast doing it. He’s always excited for a chance to go to the ballpark and to see that iconic scoreboard one more time. Mostly he probably just thinks he’ll get a soda and ice cream (which he does) but I’d like to think at least part of him enjoys the experience. I’m glad that fundamentally he understands that walks are good when your team is on offense but bad when they’re pitching. I have taught you well, young grasshopper.
Going to a game is a bit different than actually playing it, though. A lot of us have played pick-up games in the park, and some of us have had the chance to play Little League. Some of us end up heckling the players on the field at Wrigley, thinking that “Pfft, I could pitch/hit better than that.” But that’s not really true, because baseball is hard. However, we can all perform the simple motions used in baseball, such as catch and throw. That’s something I’ve been trying to teach my son, and it basically involves me trying to lunge for his wayward throws while coaching him on more appropriate mechanics. He has a bad habit of never looking at where he’s throwing, stepping off the wrong leg, etc. The catch part is also an adventure, as he doesn’t understand yet that he can actually move towards the ball, have his glove hand meet the ball, etc. So then I have to aim the ball towards his stationary glove. He’s actually pretty good at catching when I do that. Baby steps!
The challenge a lot of us lower-income folks have (I still have some loans to pay off and am in the midst of securing a more permanent job after getting the PhD) is that baseball is a really expensive activity. With games like basketball, all you really need is a ball and a basket and you’re set; this sort of speaks to why so many African-American children are into basketball, as it is a low cost sport and will still allow them plenty of opportunity to get into college and perhaps into the professional leagues. With baseball, however, you cannot really practice by yourself, even with a pitch-and-catch (which I bought for my son to show him how to catch grounders, liners, and flyballs). Even with impromptu batting practice, you need a guy to throw the baseball to another guy, and then a third or fourth guy to retrieve the batted balls. At least with basketball you can practice free throws, layups and three-point shots by yourself.
In my conversations with Mauricio (who is active in the community as a volunteer baseball coach), I’ve learned of various opportunities where I can get my son into baseball practice at an affordable price. Some of these programs are available through the Chicago Park District, which would work well towards supplementing father-son catch time. Another option is RBI, or “Reviving Baseball in the Inner cities”. The Cubs actually fund one such program (the White Sox are also active) and it gives kids the opportunity to play organized baseball with dedicated coaches, and some of them might be noticed enough to receive college scholarships. Maybe some could even be drafted into MLB.
My goal here isn’t really to make sure my son becomes Bryce Harper. I just want him to run around outside with kids that he gets along with, and learn more about a sport that he has grown to love. If he decides later on that he wants to pursue baseball as a school sport, then hopefully I will have found a job that would support that. In the meantime, at least there are affordable and subsidized options that are out there to serve kids who are interested in baseball. I might have to buy the gloves, pants and cleats for him, but that’s to be expected. I’ll be keeping an eye on this stuff when the weather turns warmer.