Last weekend my son and I watched the movie The Natural. It seems these days he eats, sleeps, and breathes baseball. Two practices a week, four games, plus a private coach. One would think he would be sick of the game when it comes time to relax (Lord knows I am), but no. We’ve worked our way through every baseball movie I could think of: Little Big League, Rookie of the Year, The Perfect Game, The Bad News Bears, Trouble with the Curve, The Sandlot, Eight Men Out, even The Benchwarmers. Last Sunday I was plain out of ideas, but then I remembered the Robert Redford movie I had enjoyed at about the same age as my son.
The flick was a little drama heavy for him and he didn’t quite understand all the more grown up issues at play. He did love the whole idea of the almost magical bat “Wonderboy” and the scenes of The Knights playing in games held his attention. Then came the movie’s most spectacular scene (SPOILER ALERT!) where the injured Roy Hobbs hits a homerun to win the game. And not just any homerun, but one that hits the lights. Firework-like explosions light the sky; sparks rain down on the larger-than-life hero as he rounds the bases and his team mates clear the bench to greet him with cheers and hugs at home plate.
“I’m totally going to do that one day,” he whispered.
“I have absolutely no doubt you will.” I kissed the top of his head.
Yesterday we visited K. She’s in the thick of chemo so we jump on the times she feels good enough to have company. I miss her so much and I hate the misery she’s going through. It’s already robbed her of her hair and not to mention the luxury of everyday routines or any sense that life will be normal again. Still, she is positive and strong and a total warrior. We all draw strength from her strength though part of me feels it should be the other way around.
Unfortunately the visit was cut short by—you guessed it—baseball. It was round one of the AA Little League playoffs. Do or die time. Win or go home. Once E had dressed in his full baseball regalia, K asked if he had eye-black since it was really sunny. I replied we used to have some that stuck on, but I’d lost track of it.
“I have some pretty cool ones,” she said with a grin.
She produced a set of press on tattoos shaped like eye-black with breast cancer awareness mottos on them. E pounced on the chance to display his support for K. He loves her almost as much as I do and it empowers him to be able to do something, anything to help.
He chose two that read “Pink is the new black” and “Find the cure”. We applied them and took off for the game. The other players all asked what the tattoos were all about. He explained he was wearing them show support for someone we love who has breast cancer. The other boys nodded their heads and said things like, “Cool, man.” Even if they had made fun, E wouldn’t have cared. He’s just that kind of kid that meanness rolls off of and for that I am so very grateful.
The game was a long battle. We were one run behind for most of it, the score 2-3. We gave up one more run in the 5th putting the score at 2-4. In the last inning, our first two batters went down, one, two. Time for a two-out rally. We got one runner on and only one more batter before E who bats clean up. He’s been swinging for the fences all season and damn near getting it over. Even his coach said he was due, it’s only a matter of time. He knew the boy before him would get on base. The kid is a solid single hitter. E could feel it in his bones— this was his moment.
So one runner on, the next batter takes the plate, E’s on deck warming up. And then, Crack! The ball sails deep into a hole in the right side of centerfield. The fielders are scrambling. The lead runner rounds second and then third. The coach signals for both of them to keep going. The lead runner flies toward home and slides. Safe! The score is now 3-4.
The tying runner is barreling toward the plate. Our whole cheering section is on its feet. I’m jumping up and down screaming like a fool. But the fielders have gotten their stuff together and the pitcher has possession of the ball. The pitcher flips the ball to the catcher. Our runner slides, but too late. The catcher makes the tag.
“You’re out!” the ump bellows.
As the initial shock and groans of disappointment die down, I look at E. He’s still standing there on deck, helmet on, bat in hand, only now his head is hung, shoulders shaking a little. He swipes away clearly unwelcome tears from his eyes. He never got his last at-bat.
In the car on the way home, he is as vocal as I’ve ever heard him after a loss. Usually, he sloughs it off, but not this time.
“Coach should’ve held J up at third!” he says, hands thrown in the air. “I could’ve batted him in. Why didn’t he hold him up? And why didn’t J run back to third when he saw the throw to the catcher?”
“I don’t know, baby. What’s done is done. Why are you so upset?”
“This was my last AA game ever.”
“Okay, but there’s still travel league and AAA in the fall.”
“Yeah, but I was robbed. I was robbed of my hero moment.”
Ahhh, so there it is. The visions of a soaring baseball, shattering ballpark lights, and showers of sparks evaporated in a one single error.
I think on this for a minute and know that for a child his age, this has to be hard to process. I glance in the rearview mirror and look at his forlorn, dirt-stained face. The breast cancer awareness tattoos are still there, still legible after all the sweat and drama. Then the bigger picture becomes clear.
“Hey.” I get him to look at me. “You weren’t robbed of your hero moment.”
“How’s that?” He asks, lips twisted in doubt.
“Miss K says you became her hero when you put on those tattoos, proud to show your support for someone who really needs every bit of strength she can muster right now.”
A little smile breaks through his scowl. “I guess you’re right.”
“I am. You were a hero tonight whether you believe it or not.”
“Thanks, Mom.” He beams at me, his mood visibly lightening.
I know he thinks I’m blowing smoke, but I hope one day, when he looks back on all this, he’ll realize it’s not one moment of greatness that makes someone a hero. It’s a lifelong commitment and millions of seemingly small acts of kindness and bravery. He’s already well on his way…