How many kids will put the bats and balls and gloves in the closet over the next few weeks and head for the soccer fields, or put on pads and helmets and trudge onto dusty fields for football practice, not because they “want” to, but because the grown-ups say that’s the way it is. “That’s the schedule”.
CINCINNATI — Sam’s an unusual guy. He’s one of those people who makes you think; makes you see things differently. He doesn’t preach; doesn’t carry on. In fact, he’s a quiet sort, just looks you in the eye, speaks softly and says what’s on his mind. He’s direct, damned direct, and I like that about him.
Sam comes by once in awhile; just lives down the way. We sit out on the porch on these hot nights with a cold drink and talk.
He loves sports, all sports; loves to watch LeBron James, but respects the San Antonio Spurs and their style of play. “Old school,” he says, “the extra pass, always looking for the extra pass.”
At the same time, he questions the overall play in the NBA. “Seems to me it’s more and more like hockey, chaotic. Ya know? I never see anything that resembles a play, just one screen after another. It’s more like—what —sophisticated street ball? Does ’at make sense?
“’Course,” he shrugs, “you can’t question, those guys are the best athletes in the world.”
He regards the NFL with curiosity, wonders if Andy Dalton will ever take “the big step,” as he calls it.
But it’s baseball he loves most. He marvels at the Cubs, and Terry Francona and the Indians are growing on him. He’s been a Reds fan for life, but like so many others, his loyalty is beginning to wane.
“This ‘rebuild’,” he argues, “has no direction. Makes you wonder who is running the show.”
We don’t always talk sports. Sam has concerns about our country’s education system. He’s curious about the upcoming presidential election and its possible effects. He regards national news as slanted and local news as pablum.
“It’s the same stuff over and over,” he says. “Ever watch the morning news? You can sum it up in about three sentences. It’s hot. Traffic’s jammed and somebody else got shot last night.”
We agree on many things, which is odd when you think about it. You see, I’m 65 and Sam is 11, a very mature and insightful 11. My sons say, “Talking with Sam is like talking to a 40-year-old.”
They are right, but I have talked with many folks in their 40’s who don’t have nearly as much sense as Sam does.
Sam’s smart, real smart, and he has what’s become a rare quality these days. He listens.
A few days ago he showed up a little down in the mouth. At first, he wouldn’t say what was on his mind. “It’s nothing,” he said, shaking his head. “I just don’t understand.”
This wasn’t like Sam, so I pressed him a little bit. Finally, he spoke up.
“My baseball season is over,” he said, shrugging his shoulders.
“Over? Sam, it’s not even the middle of July. How many games did you guys play?”
He wasn’t sure. But as he continued to talk I began to see what was bothering him. For the first time, he had made a “select” team, and while things didn’t start that well for him, he was gaining his footing and starting to hit the ball when—bang—the season drew to a close.
“Isn’t there a fall league you can play in, something like that?”
“No,” he said. “I don’t think so.”
“So what do you do now?”
He paused over the question for a good bit. “Well, soccer and football start in two weeks,” he said. “First of August. My parents don’t want me to play football yet, and that’s fine, so I guess I’ll play soccer.”
Again, there was that shrug, s if he didn’t much care and had little choice.
“You don’t seem real excited about it,” I said.
“It’s okay. I just wish we could keep playing baseball. A lot of my friends feel the same way. But, what are you gonna do?”
He paused for a moment, thinking it over. “What did you guys do back, you know, when you were kids?”
I explained that things were different then, that after Little League and Babe Ruth were over how we would just gather and play games, get together as many guys as we could, choose up sides and just play – in parks, fields, pastures, any place we could find.
The concept seemed foreign to Sam. “Just play,” he said. “Interesting. What did you do for bases? Who decided who played where?”
“We did,” I said. “As for bases, anything we could find. Cardboard. Our gloves. Sticks. Sometimes we used dried cow chips.”
He didn’t know about cow chips. When I explained he laughed. “Ugh, gross, but it sounds like fun,” he said.
But soon we were back to his predicament: no more baseball for the summer.
“You guys ever thought about just talking to your coaches. You know, saying, ‘Why can’t the season go on? Or, how come we don’t have a fall league? Something like that.”
He looked at me and smiled, as if I was the naïve one sitting there on the porch.
“Wouldn’t do any good,” he said. “They got a schedule. Never changes.”
“Who has a schedule? Who set the schedule?” I said, remembering my own sons’ displeasure with football in the heat and miserable humidity of August.
“Who sets the schedule?” he said, rolling the thought around. “Good question. The coaches, I guess. The schools.”
“It’s worth asking, Sam,” I said.
He looked at me for a long moment. It was a look that said, “You don’t understand.”
He said, “Yeah, Mister Hoard, but it wouldn’t make any difference. It’s hard to talk to most grown-ups. You know that. They don’t listen to us kids.”
It was my turn to be silent, my turn to think.
How many kids like Sam will put the bats and balls and gloves in the closet over the next few weeks and head for the soccer fields, or put on pads and helmets and trudge onto dusty fields for football practice, not because they want to, but because the grown-ups say that’s the way it is, that’s the schedule.
The very thought made me feel ashamed. Aren’t we “grown-ups” supposed to be the smart ones? Wouldn’t you think someone would ask the kids what they want to play and when.
Some times, you got to wonder about who’s driving the train and who told them to take the wheel.
Like I said, Sam makes you think.