Every day he so deftly navigates a world that most of us have long forgotten. A crowded hallway, reeking of Axe Apollo and the cherry blossom hand sanitizer that the 8th grade girls next to him are sharing. Bumping into one another, talking too loudly, slamming lockers, purposely stepping on the back of one another’s shoes. Its own kind of jungle. “They keep turning around in Science.” he says, giving me a small and rare glimpse. He feigns annoyance, but is secretly intrigued. “Who?” I ask. “I don’t know. These three girls. Nevermind.”
Then in third period Math, “I can’t BELIEVE you MISSED THAT CATCH!!!” one of them began the Monday right after a game. “I didn’t see it in the sun idiot!” one replied in his own defense. “We lost because of you.” said another. “Because of ME?” he argued back, “you struck out three times yesterday.” “NUH UH! I did not.” “You did. Your Dad has the book. Look it up.” “Well, you suck anyway” one said back. “I suck. Yea. Whatever. You haven’t been on base all season, so…” “I don’t care, man, I’m planning on going in the NFL anyway.”
What really happened in the game doesn’t matter here. Reality is just rewritten for convenience.
I mentally flash forward to the spring. To long car trips and hot weekend double headers. To Monday morning middle school re-hashing that I won’t ever hear.
This sounds like something more than the usual good natured teasing so common at this age. This has potential to do real damage to his confidence, to the very solid self-esteem that I have spent fourteen years to help build, and worse – to his love of the game of baseball.
And what is really in it for him? Friendships? Probably not. Teamwork? Doubtful. Prestige? Hardly.
Our time is precious. I am very selective with whom we choose to share it. I am not looking for coddling. He’s not some pampered hothouse flower that can’t handle some honest teasing. But I do know that I want him around people who support him, who make him better, and who consistently build him up rather than tear him down. He’ll run into that enough in life without knowingly seeking it out.
“Do you really want this?” I asked. “It is up to you and you have to answer honestly.” He hesitated and then said a simple “No.” He looked as if he had just dropped an enormous package from his shoulders and looking out the car window, hid a smile. A sudden lightness came over him – and me.
“Well, screw them. There’s plenty of places to play ball,” I said and with a quick tap of the delete button on my phone, the tryout date was erased from our calendar.
Here in the dead of winter, I think I may have just saved spring.