Saturday, July 3, 2010

Baseball Dust and Dragonflies

These are good days. I think for the rest of my life I will always love baseball dust and dragonflies. I love the poof of dust as the ball hits the pitcher's mitt. I love the pigpen look, dust from head to toe, as the kids get up from a slide into the base. I love the fog of dust swirling about any play in the infield. And I love the innocuous dragonflies buzzing about our lawn chairs in the hot summer sun, minding their own business, oblivious to the drama unfolding on the field before them.

Our younger son, we'll call him R, has been blessed with a fair amount of athleticism, and he shines on the baseball field. What a rush it is to watch him do well! To see great line drives into the outfield, heroic diving catches at short, to watch his uncanny ability to know just where the play is at every moment. It makes me dizzy with pride to hear the other dads yell things like, "Way to go, R! That kid is a vacuum out there! He's just a vacuum!" To hear the coach describe R as his rock, always dependable. Oh, it's just plain too much fun.

My younger daughter, let's call her L, has also been blessed with a sizable portion of athleticism. She had been dancing at a local studio for a couple years, but we stumbled into a Cecchetti ballet class last October. We visited a Grade 2 class, and although she'd never has done Cecchetti ballet before, the teacher invited her to stay. In the end, she passed her Grade 1 test in December, and tested for Grade 2 with the other kids in the class in March. She passed her Grade 2 test with a better score than anyone else in her class, Highly Commended, which is apparently pretty good.

No baseball dust or dragonflies in our ballet studio, but that familiar thrill is there. I love to peek in the window of the studio during the last 15 minutes of class to watch her glide across the floor, looking far more graceful and beautifully rhythmic than I ever could dream of looking.

Now there have been far more sports players in my family and T's than there have been ballerinas. So it shouldn't surprise me too much that there's a lack of appreciation for this fine art. But through the grapevine I caught wind of a remark made my one of my sisters. She said, "So what exactly is she going to do with all that ballet?" Huh?

What exactly did her daughter do with softball? What did my other sister's kids do with swimming? What did my brother-in-law do with being all-American in football, or T do with his black belt in karate? And what will R ever do with baseball? In the end, nothing. It's enjoyable. For a season it has its place; it builds confidence, character, friendships, physical fitness, discipline, knowledge and experience in an avenue that suits their abilities. It fills kids' time productively and keeps boredom and mischief at bay. It gives them a sense of identity at a time when they're searching for where they fit into the world around them, who they are. But in the end, most kids do nothing with their childhood passions. The purpose of the passion is fulfilled in the pursuit, not in the end. And that's a wonderful thing! It means that the star as well as the average kid benefit equally.

Not all of us get to experience the thrill of fine motor coordination and all the blessings it brings to youth. (I was one of those. Any athletic ability my kids have came directly from T's gene pool!) L and R are effortlessly coordinated and strong. My older son is also, but my older daughter...well, if she's athletic, she's hidden it well. We tried her in every sport under the sun and none really stuck. People gravitate toward what they're good at, so I'm pretty sure sports just weren't her thing. She's a writer, a thinker, a singer, a campy, outdoorsy kind of gal. Great with kids and academics. Just not the athlete.

It's sort of sad to think of the kudos she's missed out on because of it. There aren't cheering audiences for writers and camp counselors. No dads shouting on the sidelines, "Way to go, girl! Look how she engages those kids! Woo-hoo, can she build a campfire or what!"

It's not fair, you know. I'm not complaining, but I do want to point out that it isn't fair. It's an intrinsic inequity in our society that athletes, especially athletic children, are applauded so highly, while non-athletic children are left on the sidelines, literally and figuratively.

R, L and my older son were drawn to athletics because it came easily to them, and because it came easily, they enjoyed it and were good at it. No virtue involved. Often there's virtue and character involved in the development of athleticism, but much of the beautiful grace we admire in a natural athlete is exactly that: natural. In reality, often the more praiseworthy qualities are exhibited in the mediocre athlete because he's had to persevere and practice long hours without the glow of glory and when success was not guaranteed.

"For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?" (1 Corinthians 4:7) A little out of context, but perfectly applicable, don't you think? (I think Paul is talking to the Corinthians here about spiritual knowledge they had received, not natural gifts.)

We do that a lot, don't we? We praise beauty over virtue. (And athleticism is nothing more than a form of beauty, isn't it?)

In our case though, I'm especially happy for R to have been blessed with some natural ability. He's an unassuming, quiet guy, not the first-born boy, not the first-born girl and not the youngest. He has that sometimes irksome middle position in the family, which has too often resulted in his being overlooked. So now, with older son off to college and older daughter ready to go too, maybe it's his turn to capture a bit more of the limelight.

Anyway, I bring this up because we're just finishing a wonderful weekend of tournament baseball. The weather was lovely, our cooler was packed, the lawn chairs were comfy and umbrellas kept the sun from being overbearing. We had neighbors and other parents to chat with, the dragonflies were buzzing happily, and all was right with the world. The players showed up Friday morning squeaky clean in their sharp red, black and white uniforms, but looked comically unclean within the hour.

I'll keep it in perspective: his athleticism is a blessing, not a virtue. But in the meantime, I'll still thrill with every well-placed throw, every great catch and every crack of his bat!

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