It starts in the spring, or more like winter up here in the Northwoods. The high school boys are in the gym throwing rubber balls as soon as the basketball team clears the court for the season. The team is travelling by mid-April to play games that are scheduled with teams further south, on fields that aren't covered with snow. This year, we could have been hosting the games, spring came early.
April, 2 boys, 2 teams. I missed a lot of games. I knew what was coming and I was pacing myself.
May came with the high school season in full swing and Owen starting his summer Little League play Owen took his role as the experienced 10-year-old on the 9-10 team very seriously. Owen likes to play baseball; check that, Owen loves to play baseball. But it's more than just fun for him. He is serious about it, and it shows. He doesn't get 'mad' serious, just 'professional-I'm-here-to-bring-my-best-game' serious.
Even when the team got goofy here, Owen had trouble breaking ranks with his serious face. (They're celebrating their 2nd place finish in the league.)
I didn't catch it on film, but his face was certainly all smiles after he hit his first ever over-the-fence home run this season. You'd think his big brothers would all be congratulatory to the little guy--the one who's been in the shadows, tagging along to games, always the smallest in the home pick-up games, always scrapping to overcome the overwhelming odds dealt him by age and size--you'd think. The typical response? 'If we'd had the bats you have when we were your age we'd have hit homeruns all day long.' (Ever want to strangle your own kids?)
Bryce was the last to add his schedule to the calendar and had (what I think is) the unenviable season of "13 year old Babe Ruth". This league is filled with Little Leaguers turning into Legion players. Many of them still look like they belong on the LL field. Many of them run, hit, and pitch like they still belong on the LL field. But, they have to make the switch sometime and this is the painful year for it.
Bryce spent most of his time in his favorite position--catching--and his enjoyment only increased when big-brother-Keith was umping. One thing that set Bryce apart from most of the 13-year-old catchers: he could throw the ball all the way down to second base--no bounce.
Bryce was selected to play on the end-of-the-season area 13-year-old All-Star team and his summer ball finally came to an end during a very uneventful regional tournament. It may have been uneventful, but that's no reason to not look cool doing it! (Truth--he said he needed them for the sun while playing first--but it looks to me like the sun is behind him.)
Four teams for four boys with a total of about 70 games wasn't enough. Troy and Shane finished their high school season and promptly moved on to their summer leagues--American Legion and 15-16 Babe Ruth. Why not add another 30 games or so to the summer and then tag on a couple of regional and state tournaments while we're at it?
Shane, like Bryce, loves to be behind the plate. (I'm sure their Aunt Kari would take credit for that.) He had a chance to play with his cousin, Mark, as the ump. I'm sure glad these guys all get along and actually LIKE playing together.
Shane had a good season batting, too, going over .600. He had a good eye for the ball and connected well when he hit it.
Shane was a leading member of the 15-year-old All Star Team that qualified for state and went 1-2 in Eau Claire, just finishing their season at the end of July.
Shane has always loved playing with his cousin Brett (they're only 12 days apart) and we all loved it when Brett pitched and Shane caught. Kelly noticed that when those two were the battery there was very little "shaking off" off the called pitch (when the catcher signals the pitches to the pitcher). She figured it was because they both knew and trusted each other so well they were always pretty much in sync.
Troy's Legion team was really just a continuation of his high school team, which had their best season in years. There were only two seniors on the team, one of them a pitcher, so Troy was given a lot of opportunity to pitch this summer in preparation for stepping in next year. He had served well as a closer and is going to have to work a little to move into a starting position.
He did well, but going a full game gives batters a better chance to figure you out and get some hits.
Troy was very happy with his batting and improved from the high school season to bat over .400 during the summer. The American Legion season ended on the highest of high notes and will get a post of its own.
This may seem, to many, like a burden with all of the schedules and games and practices; and it can get pretty crazy some days. But, at the end of a game, and a beautiful summer evening, sitting up on the hill overlooking the field and the lake, this is what we get to see:
And when we head out for the afternoon games we see this:
We also have time before the games to let Lisa and Gabe do this:
Then, during the games they keep themselves busy doing this:
Some people shake their heads and think we're crazy to make these commitments summer after summer. But, for us, they're not burdensome. Baseball is something everyone enjoys--as participants, as spectators, as coaches, as umps. It gets us out and enjoying the weather and the parks and is something we just enjoy doing.
Certainly, some of our days ended with more than just Gabe feeling like this:
But, Bryce summed it up well when he was telling me how glad he was about the team he was on this summer. Our town had two teams in his division and his regular season team finished the season 14th out of 16 while the other finished in 3rd. Bryce sat near the dug-out of the other team one night while waiting for them to finish a game so his team could get on with theirs. He heard the kids talking, and swearing, and belittling one another, and saying things to and about their coaches that weren't very appropriate. Later he told me how happy he was with his team. "They're fun to play with, and they're nice, and I've had a great time with them. I don't care what our record is."