Thursday, April 24, 2008

A contest entry by an anxious father

I didn't tell anyone but Long Suffering Spouse when I entered Middle Son in a contest earlier this Spring.

It was something I saw on line -- the St. Louis Cardinals were looking for untapped talent and soliciting stats on line is a heck of a lot easier than staging an open tryout.

Please don't tell my pastor. I think he'd excommunicate me.

As a life-long Cub fan, born and reared in the German community on the North Side, Fr. Ed (no, not his real name) can't help himself: He hates, loathes and despises the Cardinals with an un-Christian fervor. Once, many years ago, we were working a reception after Sunday Mass, pouring coffee and looking the other way as the senior citizens pocketed as many sweet rolls as they dared. Middle Son was running around the room proudly wearing his new team t-shirt. All the park district teams are named for real, live major league teams. That year, Middle Son was a Cardinal.

Fr. Ed confronted me: "You let your son go out in public, dressed like that?"

My kids didn't understand Fr. Ed's reaction. As regulars here will know, Fr. Ed and I are separated by denominational differences, at least when it comes to baseball. And, of course, I've raised my children in the one true faith. So I translated for them: "It would be like someone wearing a Yankee jersey for us." All White Sox fans hate the Yankees. (This week has been particularly rough... but I won't digress.)

Which brings us back to the contest. It was early in the season when I sent in Middle Son's stats... and they were pretty sparse then.

He's 6'4" and 185 lbs. He's not yet 21 (and, oh, does that bug him). He doesn't have a blazing fastball. He's what they call a "crafty lefty."

I watch a lot of baseball on TV. And I listen to baseball games in the car when I can. I can't begin to estimate how many times I've heard an announcer talk about how a big left-handed kid can find work in the majors -- in the majors! -- if he can just get the ball over the plate.

But Middle Son is pitching for a Division III college. Small time. His stats have blossomed a bit since I sent that entry to the Cardinals: He's 5-0 overall this season -- 3-0 in conference -- with a nifty 2.00 ERA (2.52 in conference). He leads the staff in innings pitched in conference and -- here's the improvement that the casual fan like me can see -- he's tied for the staff lead in strikeouts in conference, and second on the staff overall. He was the number four starter when the season opened; he's probably the number two man now behind one of the seniors. (Middle Son is a junior.)

In the age of Billy Beane and Theo Epstein, stats are supposed to be the great predictor: It doesn't matter that you've pitched in small college ball or big-time NCAA Division I. They look for stats; if you have them, they will find you. Isn't that what they said in Moneyball?

But there's two kids on Middle Son's team who got invited to a better summer league this year (not the Cape Cod League, something out West, but still... an opportunity to be seen). Middle Son was not chosen.

The college season is already winding down -- April's not even over! -- and Middle Son interviewed for a summer internship yesterday. As an auditor. While he's pitched well, the team has faltered just a bit -- they've got a great record, but they've lost games they probably needed to win in order to secure an invite to the NCAA tournament. Middle Son is a team player; he's quite down in the dumps at the moment.

He sees baseball coming to an end for him. He's losing hope of reaching what he calls the "next level."

I want to encourage him to follow his dream -- but I don't want to push him to follow mine. And I begin to think those announcers who talk about lefty pitchers have exaggerated all these years.

And then I look at this guy. Mark Buerhle. 6'2" and 230 lbs. A graduate of Jefferson (Mo.) Junior College. A life-long Cardinal fan playing for the White Sox. His fastball tops out around 85 mph. That's about as fast as Middle Son gets, too. (He says he's hit 87 mph this season, but he doesn't claim that as a regular thing. And I don't carry a radar gun on me.)

I wish I could do more -- do something -- to advance Middle Son's cause. But all I can do is watch, and listen when he wants to talk.


Shelby said...

We all have different dreams.. some dream of playing ball.. some dream of arguing a case before the Supreme Court.. lots of 'em.

Dreams are real, and they can come true. They don't always.. but they do sometimes-even in baseball.

Of course, this is personal to me and my family, because we watched one of own grow up with this very dream and he struggled every bit of the way. It was agonizing watching dreams get dashed, then revived - and dashed again..time after time..then finally to the best organization in the league .. to win it all.

It's an exquisite joy to have watched one who worked so hard for so long and stayed after his dream no matter what.

- -

I've just recently been able to watch The Natural with Robert Redford. It's tough to get through emotionally, but it's such a goopd picture for 'keeping after it no matter what.'

It's all good.

Empress Bee (of the high sea) said...

i don't know what to say curmy. i wish him the best. i wish i had an answer. i wish i had an answer for my own son too... but your question has a much better chance!

smiles, bee

Dave said...

We need pitchers down here, he can bunk with me.

I wish him all that he can be.

Jeni said...

As Shelby said, we all have different dreams. As parents, I would imagine we all want the best for our children and hope we have the ability to recognize how to help them garner "the best." If there were anything else you could do -under cover, so-to-speak -to assist your son, I'm sure you'd be seeking it out. And if there isn't, then just hope that faith and fate collide and things bring about great results. (For both father and son!) Peace.

Ellee Seymour said...

I find myself advising my sons to do what I wish I had done at their ages too, they have so many more opportunities today. They always make it clear what they want to do, I'm glad they are confident enough to realise that, but they also appreciate my guidance. I am sure your son is the same.

Patti said...

We as parents want the best for our children, and have them follow their dreams.

Sounds like you're doing all you can to help Middle Son do that.

And what you said in the last line, "listening when he wants to talk," is probably the most important thing you can do for him.