Saturday, October 12, 2013

Picking Teams - " I looked over the pool of team prospects my eyes fell upon the last person I ever, EVER expected to see in that group."

When I was a kid I engaged in any number of activities that served to enrich my life.  There were also a number of other activities that almost served to end my life as well, but I’m not sure if the statute of limitations is up on some of those so I’m not talking about them right now.

I was reminded recently of something that I hope kids are still doing today just because they need to get out more anyway.  I never had to spend hundreds of dollars on anything in order to have fun.  I ran, I jumped (occasionally off the roof), I crawled into places I wasn’t supposed to be,… everything. 
And we played baseball.  Anywhere.  The street, an empty field, a too small backyard (windows were in danger), - all that was necessary was a bat and a ball, or a stick and a rock if that was all that was available (we were more careful with the rocks). 
An inevitable part of the process of playing baseball was picking teams.  This was always a source of anxiety for pretty much everyone involved.  If you were the captain picking then you were anxious because you wanted to get the first pick and the best players.  If you were in the group being picked from you were anxious to be picked, and your anxiety increased the longer you remained unpicked. There was also anxiety surrounding who else got picked for your team because you didn’t want to have to play with someone who happened to be your sworn enemy that week.
There was one day when I found myself in the best and worst situation of my life.  If you had asked me to imagine a bad situation I would NEVER, have been able to make this one up.  NOT EVER! I mean NEVER in a HUNDRED MILLION BILLION YEARS would I have imagined this could happen!  Not only could I not imagine it, but I wouldn’t even wish my worst enemy to be in that situation! 

I was 8 or 9 years old, and we were at a church potluck.  I went through grade school at a school that was part of our church as well so all of the kids that I played ball with at school were there too.  The school principal, Mr. Janzow, organized a baseball game.  Mr. Janzow was the ultimate authority figure.  Strict, fair, and respected by the most hardened child.  We called him "Chrome Dome" behind his back due to his baldness, which he knew about and took in good humor.  When Mr. Janzow got enthusiastic about something everyone just naturally went along with it.  And he loved baseball.  Every year he would bring a television set into the classroom to watch the World Series.  Back then hauling a TV anywhere was a project in itself.  They were heavy and they didn’t have wireless hookups or remote controls.  You had 4 channels max.  Maybe a couple more if you got the rabbit ears just right to pick up a UHF channel.

So we all ran out onto the baseball lot at school to start the game.  And this is where IT happened.
Usually the best players were always the captains, but today Mr. Janzow chose the captains and he called out their names. 
“Ok the captains are going to be Danny, and David!” 

Huh?  Not Jeff Schultz and Steve Diaz?!  Is there another Danny here?  There actually was another Danny in the class who was my good friend Danny Buice, but we always called him Dan to differentiate between us.
“Danny come on up here and pick your team!” 

Stunned at my good fortune I walked up to take my place.  I was a good player, but I was by no means the best so I didn’t usually get this opportunity.  I have to say I actually probably basked in the glow of the spotlight for a few minutes.  This was the best moment for me.
Then came the worst.

“Ok everyone come on over to pick teams!” He yelled, but then came the fateful words:  “Adults too!”
All the kids looked at each other.  Adults?  They play baseball?  Who would have thought?  We all kind of shrugged our shoulders as if to say, “Yeah ok.  We can still have fun.”
Then we turned around and realized with quiet horror that the adults there were OUR PARENTS! 


And as I looked over the pool of team prospects my eyes fell upon the last person I ever, EVER expected to see in that group.  Huh???!!!  That’s my MOM!!!  What the heck is SHE doing there?!  I’m pretty sure she never played baseball in her life!   Everyone saw her move into the group, and then everyone looked at me.  I could see the same thought pass through their minds.

“You HAVE to pick your mother!”

Some bowed their heads in sympathy, some snickered.  I don’t remember how long it took me to recover my senses, but by the time we were ready to pick teams I had a strategy in place.  I was going to pick the best players first to make up for my mom. 

“Ok Danny first pick!” called Mr. Janzow.

“Jeff.”  Jeff came over and stood behind me.  He had a sympathetic look in his eyes. 
Dave, another kid in my class, was the other captain and he called out his first choice.
My turn.
“Bobby.”  Bobby Finke was Jeff's best friend, and they were always on the same team.  It was protocol.
I don’t remember the rest of the choices, but it inevitably came down to the last person. 

No one ever wants to be the last pick.  It was like the walk of shame.

You know when you have kids, and sometimes you hear yourself saying things that just don’t seem to go together?  I just realized looking back on this situation that kids have those moments too!  I was picking teams for baseball and I uttered the one word that never should have passed my lips in this situation.

“Mom.” I said. 

I will never forget the sight of her standing there with a BASEBALL GLOVE ON HER HAND, (a baseball glove ON HER HAND!  How did that HAPPEN?!), and the biggest grin on her face that I had ever seen.  I remember thinking then that, as bad as the situation was for me in that moment, I loved it when my mom smiled.  I liked it when my dad smiled too.  It didn’t happen enough.  I think a lot of it was simply the proof that if they were smiling at me it meant I had their attention and I wasn’t in trouble.  So I knew that my mom was in no way put out by being picked last by me, and had in fact expected it.  Then she started to walk over to my side.

I was kind of smiling at her, until I realized that she was walking straight towards me rather that to the rest of the team, and in my head I’m thinking, “She’s NOT going to….  NO MOM you can NOT do this in front of everyone!!!!!!  This is a BASEBALL GAME!!!!  PLEASE DON’T DO-!”

She leaned over and kissed me on the cheek.

Kids HATE it when their mothers kiss them in front of their friends.  It’s genetic.  I won’t ever claim to have been a completely normal kid, but in this one respect at least, I was normal. 
I was also mortified. 
Public Displays of Affection are fine for adults, but when parents do it to their kids - it's just wrong.  And parents don't care!  They take special joy in tormenting their kids that way.  I know 'cuz I did it to my kids.  I guess it's genetic for parents too.

One of the things about playing baseball with my friends was that we could let loose all the new cuss words that we had learned, (or made up on our own) during the game without getting in trouble for it.  And now, in my head, as her lips touched my bright red cheek, I thought,

I know, I know, I was too young to have that kind of vocabulary, but, well I heard most of it from my Dad anyway so what was I supposed to do?  He got in trouble when he said it in front of my Mom too.
This was going to be the worst baseball game of my life!  I heard Mr. Janzow quietly laughing.  Ugh.  I couldn't even whine or stomp my feet! 

We took the field.  My team had first ups.  We did pretty good too.  Scored a couple of runs right off if I recall correctly. 

And then my Mom was up.  Mr. Janzow was permanent pitcher so I knew she wouldn't get hurt (even while mortified I was still worried about her, I still could NOT believe this was happening!).  First pitch, swing and a miss!  Not unexpected, I didn't think she was going to - Crack! - hit the ball! 

What?!  She hit the ball!  My MOM hit the ball!  MY MOM HIT THE BALL! 

To say I was shocked was a complete understatement!  If I thought I was unprepared up to now then this sent me over the edge!  I stood there with my mouth open.  Stunned into silence!  (Probably the third or fourth amazing thing that happened that day.)

Then I realized that my Mom was just as surprised as I was!  She was standing there laughing as she watched the ball roll away!  Now technically the hit was more of a hard bunt in terms of effect, but it was enough to get it past Mr. Janzow so she had a chance! 


She realized she needed to go and started to run.  Now here's something about most mothers that is true, especially if they have a lot of kids, and I was the youngest of six: most mothers of multiple children have, by the time the third child is 5, perfected the "Look" and the "Yell".  When she has had to run after more than one kid in different directions she is inherently able to perfect a system in which she can vocally or non-verbally reign the children in to her whenever necessary.  She calls and they come running or the consequences will be severe.  My mom had perfected this system.  What this meant in the reality of the present situation was that my mom hadn't had to run in a long time.  So, when she started running it was more of a "trot" I think, but she was moving! 
She was also laughing uncontrollably as she moved which meant that she was moving that much slower, which in turn made it easy for the second baseman to run up and tag her out long before she made first base.  Even then it was still ok, because we got a run in from the guy on third and it was only the second out.  And again, I uttered words that I would have never thought would come out of my mouth.

"Good run Mom! That was -" , the rest was cut off when she walked up still laughing and HUGGED ME IN FRONT OF EVERYONE!  PLEASE STOOOOOPPPP!!! 

But I let her hug me and didn't try to squirm out of her arms, because really that would have just made it worse.  I just resigned myself to the inevitable when she kissed the top of my head too.   
I don't remember who won the game.  We laughed a lot that day.  There was no real competition going on.  It didn't matter at all. 

But do you know the only reason I remember this game at all?  Do you know the most prominent image of this whole event that I key in on every single time I think of it?  No, of course you don't. 
I'll tell you.

It was my mother's smile.

Every time I heard anyone talk about my Mom there was almost always some mention of how beautiful she was.  It was true.  She was a Danish beauty.  Her smile was genuine.  She had just the slightest gap between her two front teeth, but it was a smile you never forgot.  It was like the sun, and for the most part anyone present when she smiled would smile back.  It was like you got to take a part of it with you when you walked away. 

And, really, this was just another day in life, but something inconsequential to everyone else randomly took on a much greater level of importance to me that one day.  The bottom line was that I knew my Mom was happy that day. 

My Mom smiled,

God was in His Heaven,

And all was right with the world.

©Dan Bode 2013