Late in the spring, Matthew decided he loves baseball. He asked us to sign him up for a team; I wouldn’t be surprised if he meant in the Majors. But I told him about Little League, and he still seemed interested.
The only problem is, it was too late to join a team through Parks and Rec — they close online registration after the season starts, and I’m pretty sure they won’t let anyone join in person, either. I didn’t push to find out, because I thought it might be better to get some instruction first. So we found a fall course on baseball skills, which started this morning.
Training takes place inside a community center, and before we even walked through the front doors, I could tell he had THAT KID in his class. You know the kid I’m talking about; there’s one on every team.THAT KID struts onto the field of play, even if the coach tells him to run. THAT KID knows more than the coach, see. In fact, THAT KID knows more than everybody else there, combined — both in playing theory and in player stats. THAT KID doesn’t really belong in a course that has “for beginners” in the title, and if you don’t believe me, then THAT KID will tell you. Because honestly, THAT KID won’t let anyone else get a word in edgewise, including the coach.
THAT KID turns warm-ups into a competition. THAT KID takes it upon himself to demonstrate every technique the coach describes — sometimes before the coach describes it. THAT KID runs in front of every ball, no matter where it is or to which other kid it might be heading. You see, THAT KID can’t afford to have confidence in his teammates, so THAT KID graciously volunteers to cover for them, and save them the embarrassment of messing up. Besides, the embarrassment of his teammates is a responbility that belongs only to THAT KID.
And this morning as we approached the glass doors, we saw THAT KID holding court for his parents as they sat in the lobby. He was standing in front of them, glove in one hand, imaginary ball in the other, striking various grim-faced poses and miming various baseball moves. THAT KID would make a great statue atop a trophy; he’s undoubtedly practiced his poses by imitating the thousands of tropy toppers that must adorn THAT KID’s dresser, bookshelves, and trophy case (because THAT DAD has undoubtedly built him one.)
But apparently, THAT KID had been doing more than posing; I believe he might have been complaining. About his teammates. Before he met them. Because obviously, THAT KID is able to deduce every kid’s abilities simply by laying eyes on him — and I believe he had done so with Matthew as we approached the door, because once we were inside, THOSE PARENTS watched Matthew with keen eyes and mean smile as he tentatively approached their bench.
The class is for kids ages six through nine, and at seven, Matthew is in the younger half of that spread. He was also the smallest of the boys there, which is what must have caused THAT KID such great concern. As we sat there, another boy arrived, this one taller and seemingly older than Matthew. THAT MOM looked at THAT KID and tried to cheer him up by saying, “See? That boy doesn’t look like he’s six! At least some of the boys are your age!”
I have no idea whether her tactless tactic (or tacky tack, whichever you prefer) did the intended job of cheering up THAT KID; I was too busy watching Matthew’s face to determine whether he’d heard her. He didn’t seem to have, or at least, he didn’t seem to have understood the subtext. If he had, he would have been crestfallen — and then there might have been a reckoning. But as it stood, I was content to ignore THAT FAMILY.
Once we went into the gym, THAT KID did all the things I described above as the common traits of THOSE KIDS — but it didn’t seem to faze Matthew or the others. THAT DAD thought it was hilarious, though, and laughed at every antic.
If anything weighed on Matthew’s mind, it was his own perception of his skills, relative to the other boys’. He couldn’t throw the ball as far, and even though his coach didn’t try very hard to mask her disappointment at his first attempt, she corrected a few elements of his form (while THAT KID nodded in confirmation of her advice) and praised him for improving (no nod from THAT KID at those words). At least the best arm in the group was, mercifully, attached to someone other than THAT KID.
After their last round of throws, the coach sent them to the other end of the gym to fetch the balls. Matthew wanted to be helpful, so he picked up one of THAT KID’s — I knew it was THAT KID’s because he had just run ahead of the other boys so he could be first to return his to the ball basket, when one of them bounced out and rolled back toward the other end of the gym. Matthew was carrying several balls, and bringing up the rear as the boys ran toward the ball basket. He saw THAT KID’s runaway ball, so he turned and ran after it.
THAT KID had started strutting away, obviously not interested in chasing down the loose ball that was his responsibility, but when he saw Matthew go after it, he turned around and strutted back to the ball basket (and not a step further). As Matthew approached the basket, THAT KID reached out and plucked one ball from out of Matthew’s arms, dropped it in the basket, and strutted away again without a word. No need to let someone else get credit for returning more balls than THAT KID, right?
In the second half of their practice, they switched from throwing to catching, or as THAT KID pointed out, fielding. The coach had them spread out to practice stopping grounders, one at a time. THAT KID was at his most obnoxious by this point, but the coach was a step ahead of him, calling out the name of whatever kid should field the ball she was about to throw — if the coach assigns a fielder, THAT KID is forced to stay in his spot and watch.
I thought that was a pretty wise move on her part, but THAT KID was undaunted — if he couldn’t physically show his superiority by cutting off another fielder, he could verbally show it by cutting them down. Matthew fell in front of his first grounder, but even as THAT KID was winding up with a scoff, the coach interrupted him to praise Matthew’s use of his whole body to stop the ball. She got serious points for that little bit of ingenuity.
But THAT KID was undeterred, and found other ways to cut down his teammates — color commentary. The high point came as practice was winding down, and the coach announced that this would be their last round of grounders. Matthew continued to stop the ball with his entire body, while the other boys tried valiantly to show some semblance of form. The kid with the best arm squatted down to catch his, both hands on the ground and eyes on the ball, but it managed to slip through his legs, anyway. As it smacked the wall behind him, THAT KID smirked, “Error.”
The coach took that opportunity to explain what the term means in baseball, then returned to the task at hand. There was one boy left to demonstrate his fielding skill — I think you know who it was. The coach threw one last hard grounder toward THAT KID, and he crouched resolutely, hands on the floor and eyes on the ball, watching intently — as it miraculously hopped over his hands and flew right. Through. His. Legs.
He was shocked. THAT KID, the kid who had just called “Error” on a teammate, had committed the same atrocity — in front of everyone. He stood up, looking like Bill Buckner in Game 6, then pretended to shrug it off as he lapsed back into his pose-and-mime mode — while Matthew ran to pick up the ball. And as MY KID helpfully returned THAT KID’s missed ground ball to the basket, do you know who laughed?