Family Ties

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 24, 1999

MARY ANN FITZMORRIS / L’Observateur / July 24, 1999

The first video rental of the Summer Watching Program was “The Sandlot.” It cost $79.64.Two dollars went to the movie. The other $77.64 went to the Mark McGuire bat/ball combination,two baseball gloves and an extra ball or two. Even though I am unaware of any dog namedHercules around here, you just never know when you’ll need an extra ball. I said no to the batter’sglove, real bases, catcher’s mitt, umpire’s outfit, baseball shirt, baseball cap and cleats. My daughteris wearing her cleats from her self-aborted career in soccer.

They were still protesting my skimping on the details and campaigning for more when my jaw dropped and my eyes transfixed on the cash register window. $77.64? Start-up costs for the All-American pastime? While still in my retail-induced stupor, I think I promised a return trip for some of the accessories if the obsession du jour moves into a second week.

I can’t blame them. The delightfully nostalgic movie makes you NEED baseball. The film is set ina small, sunny Western town in the summer of 1962. There is a Chevy wagon in each driveway ofthis suburban tract house neighborhood.

Somewhere on the outskirts of this town is a makeshift ballfield known as the sandlot. Nine boysspend every minute of the summer there, except for an occasional trip to the community pool. Ah,the idyllic innocence of a bygone era! After watching this film each of the five days of the rental, my kids were ready to try the real thing.

This was a wonderful by-product of the movie, because I didn’t want these guys to move into adolescence without at least trying the sport. It’s just fun! My father will be happy, too, because foryears now he’s been inquiring in a concerned tone, “Is that boy playing any ball?. . . or. . . That boyneeds to play some ball.”So, immediately upon returning with the supplies we took the field, family dog at shortstop. I wassurprised at how well they did. Both kids started hitting immediately. Maybe the coordination thatcomes with age has made the difference. Whatever the reason, the early success only intensifiedthe baseball fervor, and we have become our own sandlot team. I have the aching knees, bursitis,and heel limp to prove it.

Sometimes mom, the pitching machine, just has to take a break. When a relief pitcher steps in, thetrouble starts. My daughter, after three beanings on the head with my son’s errant pitches, refusesto bat if he steps up to the pitcher’s clump of grass. And my son is too entertained by mydaughter’s windup to hit.

My daughter’s pitching windup resembles the dance of a person who has just disturbed a hornet’s nest or is trying to suppress an emergency trip to the bathroom. The resulting pitch looks like itcame from a fast-pitch machine gone haywire.

But her confidence is high. After a few hits, she asked, “Mom, do I look like Benny the JetRodrigues?” (He’s the sandlot member who went to the majors.) “Not quite yet, but you’re surelooking good,” I respond gently, not mentioning the fact that I’m really afraid she’s going to hit her own self with the bat from her swings with a little too much follow-through.

She actually did hit herself on the head with the bat, not long after that, when she hit the bat on home plate so hard it bounced up too high. Both kids really picked up on those baseball antics,although they’re a little confused about the meaning.

My son had decided that dipping the bat handle in water and squeaking it was a way to get a great hit. Then I asked what he thought that batter’s glove he wanted was for. I drove home the point bytelling him the bat would likely fly out of his hand and hit him on the head, and he and his sister could have matching baseball hickeys.

He did keep his winking and cap twisting and tilting, and his glove signals, making him look like a baseball playing kid with a lot of nervous tics.

The neighbor child joined our sandlot yesterday as we move into week two of baseball. I may haveto make that trip for supplies, adding to the original $79.64. Worth every penny.

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