The Baseball Dad (#355)

My son wound up in the competitive local Little League—oops, I mean PONY League. (God forbid I don’t use proper terminology for the U.S. baseball caste system.) It wasn’t planned. We just happened to run into a fellow preschool parent on their way to the first meeting and my kid wanted to join his classmates.

I’d heard rumors, but I lacked firsthand knowledge about how insane some Pony League parents were until I watched a dad insist his (sobbing) child bat left-handed.

“I didn’t know Ty was a lefty,” I murmured to another mom.

“He’s not,” the mom whispered back. “But if he learns to bat left-handed, he’s got a much better chance at playing in high school or at a D1 college. Pitchers have a hard time with lefties.”

The sports advantage of being a lefty made sense. I played volleyball, and it’s much harder to block and defend the rare, left-handed hitter.

But to deliberately turn your kid into a lefty? Dalton, like most kids, was right-handed. He could barely hit the ball that way. I couldn’t imagine making it even more difficult by insisting he bat backwards. No wonder Ty was crying: batting had gone from being fun to being miserable. Which was anathema to me. I coached Dalton’s soccer team and the AYSO mandate was to make practices as much fun as possible.

Pony League did things…differently.

Over the next three years, I watched boys mess up their shoulders from pitching and cry. I watched a kid get his orbital socket broken by an errant pitch (the pitcher cried almost as much as the kid who got hit).

There was so much crying in baseball.

There was screaming, too. If it wasn’t a psycho sports dad, it was a player. One boy, who had just recovered from a broken orbital socket (apparently a common baseball injury), got dragged up to the plate by his father, despite his screams of protest. As soon as his dad let go, the kid bolted, carrying his father’s dreams of the Major Leagues with him.

Other parents sighed and offered the dad sympathy. I silently cheered the kid on: “Good job, buddy! Way to stand up for your poor face! I hope you find a safe home with theater or band kids some day!”

Dalton sliding into second

Obviously, I did not envision Dalton playing first base in high school, getting a scholarship to a Division I college, or going to the majors. All I wanted was for him to enjoy some team camaraderie, learn a few skills, and hopefully not sit on the bench too much.

We got two out of three. At least he couldn’t get injured when he was on the bench.

And, unlike with soccer, I didn’t have to coach baseball. There were tons of dads who volunteered. Each team had four coaches. They were almost all white. They were all young. And they were all committed baseball dads (i.e., not rational).

In addition to regular practices, mandatory time at the batting cages started at age six. (Some dads also had their own batting cages in their backyard.) The normal practices (beginning in February) often ran late, on fields without lights. Sunset is an ideal time for enthusiastic young boys to swing bats and throw hard balls—if you are trying to achieve concussions and broken noses.

More crying. More screaming. Blood, even.

I have never understood increasing the risk of injury to a child. And how insane is it to do it to your own child, the very child you want to play a sport so long and so well that it either saves you money or makes you money?

Welcome to the baseball edition of toxic masculinity. Put your son in harm’s way, then insist they fight through their completely unnecessary pain and mental trauma because that makes them real men. Oh, and make your love conditional on their performance. That won’t mess them up AT ALL.

When Dalton opted to focus on club soccer and drop other sports, Andy and I cheered. Club soccer cost a small fortune, but we could retire from coaching. Our son would have a professional, paid coach—not an insane baseball dad.

When I met my first club coach at tryouts, I told him, “Even though he’s fast, Dalton’s also pretty good in goal, if you want to try him there.”

The soccer coach gave me an incredulous look and said, “He’s left-footed. I’d be mad to put him in goal.”

I closed my gaping jaw and weakly echoed, “He’s left-footed? Really?”

I watched the coach mentally lumping me in the “American who doesn’t know shit about soccer” category before kindly offering me a way to save face by asking, “His coach never told you?”

Dalton’s coach thought back to her very first day coaching Dalton’s team.

I had taught ten five-year-old boys to plant one foot with the toes pointed in the direction they wanted the ball to travel and to then kick the ball with the other foot. I never told them WHICH foot to use. Dalton must have used his naturally dominant right foot to aim and kicked the ball with his left foot…and kept doing it. For almost 4 years.

OMG. I had turned my son into the most coveted player in team sports: a lefty.

I was a baseball dad.