“The Bad News Bears” was a favorite movie of mine as a kid
I loved it.
I wanted to ride a motorcycle like troublemaker Kelly Leak and take on the whole sixth grade like Tanner.
And it made me play harder at Little League, where once my team went to the championship.
I can’t remember the final result, only a key play. I tagged out a runner to save the moment. I played catcher and the runner was barreling home and the ball was thrown from center field. It bounced and magically landed in my mitt and my mitt, again magically, tagged out the runner, and the ump said, “Out!” Gruffly, and all.
My three kids don’t play baseball. They play soccer, well, football as they call it here in Argentina.
My six-year-old son is the keenest, so far.
He will walk into a game on the corner of the street or at the beach and try to get involved. Sometimes the other kids let him play; sometimes they don’t.
But he goes for it.
So we decided to take him to a football clinic here in Pinamar on the coast of Argentina, where we are spending the summer.
He’s happy, ecstatic… giddy, even, about playing.
On the first day we drove up to the Polideportivo Pinamar, a big public park with sports facilities in the forest behind our house.
The trainer came up to introduce himself and as he and my son and another boy walked through the tunnel under the bleachers to the field, my son said, “I am here because I am good.”
I don’t care, really, as long as he is having a good time and learning to play well with other kids. I don’t think I will ever be a pushy parent, unless the kids want me to be. They can play a sport for as long as they wish and if their interests shift then I will play along in the new endeavor.
That’s what happened to me. I went from T-ball to basketball to baseball and soccer (“What’s that, Dad?”) to American football, swimming, skateboarding, cross-country and long-distance running. Sometimes one sport’s season would run into another and we’d be playing two or three sports on any given weekend. My Dad would ferry us three boys around West L.A. to get to games on weekends and to practices in the week. His car put in a lot of miles.
Through it all, though, one sport caught me: surfing. I loved it so much that I wound up dumping most everything else.
What I do know is that surfing took my body places it would never have gone, to islands and frigid waters and to empty bays and waves so big your face was the sight of fear no matter how brave you wanted to appear.
My son still doesn’t excel at football, but he’s trying.
Out on the pitch that first day, he back-kicked the ball with his heel, a perfect pass to another boy.
“Ole,” he said.
Then he was in goal, playing for the blue team. So I walked up to him to show my support. He saw me and told me to go and sit in the dugout, the blue dugout, not the red dugout. I have to go and sit with the other parents, which is where I am supposed to be, he said. In the blue dugout for the blue team, not the red one for the red team, he reminded me. That’s where I am supposed to be.
So I went.
The game progressed and his team scored and my son kept his position in goal. He’s not a badass Kelly Leak from “The Bad News Bears” nor a booger-eating Timmy Lupus. He’s a boy who doesn’t quite gets what is going on all the time. Heck, I don’t. This may be because of his young age or it may be because of his mild autism. Whatever it is, he’s there and that’s what matters. And I’m in the blue dugout, the right dugout. And that makes him happy. He looks over at me and gives me the thumbs up. And as he does the Reds score on him. He doesn’t notice. He’s too busy smiling at me.
I give him the thumbs up back.