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By Staff | Mar 26, 2010

Winter is finally over and done with. The wicked witch of winter is dead!

This vernal season dredges up numerous memories. There’s the aroma of new-mown grass, the sweaty palms and the heart-in-your-throat sensation as you step up to the plate, the stinging disappointment of being cut off at first, the dejected slog back to the dugout.

But enough about my high school dating experiences. Spring also marks the start of baseball season.

Baseball is a truly American game, although one can see some similarities with the sport of cricket. But at least the average person can understand baseball. I have an Englishman friend who once tried to explain cricket to me, an exercise in futility that wasted an hour of both our lives.

Any game that can literally go on for days, involves breaks for tea and can still end a tie is not for me.

When our boys were young I tried to pass on the tradition of baseball by getting them involved in 4-H softball. This led to some interesting insights regarding aptitudes and abilities.

For instance, teaching the older boy to play catch should have given me a cue as to his innate athletic abilities. He seems to have been blessed with very few such abilities and had to work hard to master the simple act of catching a gently thrown softball.

Whenever the ball came his way he became a blur of flailing limbs while the ball plopped to the ground, untouched. I recalled how someone once advised me to toss the ball directly at the fielder’s face, which he or she would instinctively try to protect.

So I tossed a soft underhand pitch directly at the lad’s face. Arms and legs flailed; the ball proceeded unimpeded until it bounced off the child’s beak.

A howl of pain filled the air and my wife, who had been watching, ran to the boy’s side. As she led him to the house, she forcefully delivered some choice words about my fitness as a father. But no one could have made me feel worse about it than I did. I still feel awful about that episode.

Despite this and other setbacks, our eldest son gamely played the game of softball with his 4-H club. His lack of ability and aptitude usually landed him in right field, which suited him just fine. As the game progressed in the far distance, he contented himself with observing the bugs that lived in the grass of right field. Only when the occasional ball rolled out his way was he startled out of his reverie.

He eventually quit softball and began to focus his energies on all things electronic. He has since grown into a fine young man who can take computers apart and put them back together and make them sing and dance. I like to think that maybe the time he spent in right field observing bugs gave him some insight on computer bugs. Plus, he now knows the importance of throwing it home when there’s a runner on third.

Our youngest son is such a contrast to his brother it makes one wonder if they’re even related.

The younger boy wanted to start playing 4-H softball at the same time as his brother, but was obviously much too young. At one particular practice Larry, the team coach, decided to humor the little guy and let him take a turn at bat. A mistake.

Larry lobbed a softball across the plate. Our youngest boy connected solidly, rocketing the ball directly back at Larry. The ball connected solidly with a very sensitive area and Larry grunted and suddenly needed to walk around for some minutes.

This was a harbinger of things to come; our youngest boy seemed to possess an easy, natural prowess for all things athletic. Softball eventually became too tame for him, so he joined our local Legion baseball team.

He would often pester me into playing games of catch with him on summer evenings. His goal was to become a pitcher, so he spent a lot of time honing his fastball.

This meant I had to catch said fastballs, which came at my face at speeds normally associated with artillery projectiles. The ball would boom into my glove like a sledgehammer, causing no small amount of stinging. The expense of a catcher’s mitt suddenly didn’t seem quite so outrageous.

That boy is now a fine young man who is involved in the construction industry. He often has to deal with manipulating objects in three dimensions, and I like to think that maybe the time he spent playing baseball gave him some insights regarding actions and reactions.

Plus, he now knows the importance of wearing a cup — even if there’s just a little pipsqueak up at bat.

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com.

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