Yeah, I'm a dad. That brings a certain amount of baggage with it, you know, the whole worrying thing, health thing, and on and on. But it also brings with it some true happiness. This week was it.
It started simply enough. My daughter decided last year she had to play baseball. Evidentally there's some connection between this and a child's infatuation with Mike Piazza of the NY Mets. Anyway, little league here we came. She didn't do too badly last year, and this year has been more of the same. Little kids making little kid mistakes, but cute as hell.
Until Tuesday. Her team, Hardimans Auto Electric, played against their archrivals, Ciminelli Pizza. Amy had already struck out twice, and was feeling a bit down. This time she was determined, and had that look on her face, the kind you usually see only in the major leagues, and only during the World Series.
Strike one. It's looking so-so here.
Ball one. Better, at least she's watching and not swinging at everything. The pitcher looks upset over this, and looks to the sidelines for encouragement, but Mom is busy chatting and he's on his own.
Balls two, three, and four. Amy's on first, no outs, and nobody else is on. Daddy (this would be me) is coaching first base, and we have a signal worked out for stealing. It's a secret, but it's very effective. When I think the time is right, I scream "Go kiddo" at the top of my lungs and off they go to second.
The time was right, I screamed and possibly startled Amy a bit, I think she was studying a bug just off of first base at the time. But she went. The catcher stood up, cocked his hand to throw, and cut loose. Amy was just about at second when the ball got there. But, as will happen in little league, the opposing team, those pizza kids, managed to not have anyone covering. Amy was on second, and Alex came up to the plate, bat in hand and the "look" in his eye.
Now Alex is big for his age, eight, but he swings a wicked bat. And this time was no exception. Think Babe Ruth, just shorter, and you get the picture. The pitch was perfect, which in Alex's case meant that it was within two feet of home plate. It connected, and off into the outfield it went.
The outfielders at this point were doing some botanical work, inspecting clovers for four-leafers, so they missed the crack of the bat. But they didn't miss the yelling.
"Go Amy," screamed I, "run Alex, c'mon buddy." And off they went.
The ball was well past the center fielder and his leaf search, so he ran for the ball, followed, as will often happen in little league play, by half the team. Amy was off second base like a shot, Alex was rounding first with me waving him on. The third base coach, Eddie, who played for the NY Mets farm teams until a knee injury, waved Amy around. Alex headed right around second base and turned for third. Amy hit home plate, Alex made third and the opposing team stopped wrestling for the ball and got it back to the pitcher.
The rest of the inning went about like that, but I couldn't tell you who did what, all I knew was my little girl stole second, and got to cross the plate on a stretch triple.
When the inning finally ended, Amy was sent to play second base. Not her best position, but she liked the infield because, and I'm not supposed to know this, Roy plays there and she thinks he's cute. Or something like that.
Now Amy's fielding has never been what I'd call great, but we worked on it, and Tuesday was the day it paid off. The bad guys had two outs on them, but first and second base had runners, and their power guy was coming up to hit. He was a bruiser - musta gone 65-70 pounds soaking wet - and a big kid. Roy was pitching, and gave this child-monster a big old lollypop right over the plate, although in all fairness, that was Roy's best pitch, so it was all we had to work with.
The kidlet monster connected, and it was a line grounder, right at Amy. I could see the look on her face, equal parts terror (Oh God, it's coming right at me!), and determination (I can do this and I will). Well, do it she did. Stopped that thing dead in its tracks, which is the best we usually hoped for. Not this time though, she said later that she remember me telling her to "get the runner" and she did. A quick spin to her left, a throw to first, and the runner is out, the inning is over, and with it the game.
The final score was 8-7; her team won, and it was a close one. As Amy came running to me off the field, I picked her up in the air over my head and told her over and over again how proud of her I was. Later on my wife told me that Amy said, "when Daddy picked me up like that, I could feel the sun all warm through my whole body."
It was a perfect day; in fact if I had to take the Billy Crystal City Slickers test, Tuesday would have been the best day of my life. Until Sunday happened, of course.
Father's Day Sunday. A fishing trip was planned with another family. We were going out of Montauk Point on Long Island. Originally it was supposed to be bottom fishing for fluke and such, but they weren't running, so out into the Atlantic Ocean we went.
Now for those of you unfamiliar with the ocean, it's not "rolling" waves and such. We're talking six and ten footers with the boat we were on, a 51 footer, rolling all over the place. It was getting bad, and of course the inevitable happened.
I was seasick, and of course Amy followed suit. I tried to hold it together, right up until Amy couldn't. I held her in my arms as she cleared out breakfast and a snack, her little body spasming seemingly forever until it was over. She looked at me with a weak little smile, then it was Daddy's turn to do some chumming. Afterwards Amy took a nap, Captain Tom took pity on us (well we had also caught only two fish, so he was heading in to calmer waters anyway, but I took what I could get) and in we went.
Amy woke from her nap refreshed, the water off Montauk Lighthouse was dead calm, and the sun was peeking out from the clouds which had dogged us all day. Then the fish arrived. It was like some kind of marine convention had been called under the boat. We were pulling the striped bass in so fast that the mate could hardly keep up. Amy was helping with the reeling in of fish, she wasn't afraid of the animals once they were on the boat, and was generally having a great time.
We caught something like twenty fish, of which we threw back eight, too small or over limit. Amy had the best time, she even insisted on helping clean the fish, even though I explained that this chore had nothing to do with using soap.
The day turned perfect, the rain, which had been threatening all along, held off, and we had a total of 12 very large striped bass on board.
Once we made the dock, the fish were cleaned and divided up, and we started home. This was when the rain started, monsoon like, and of course we ran smack into Hamptons traffic. Muffy and Buffy heading home to the city from Southhampton and such. It was a long trip home, but Amy and I discussed how we would cook the fish for dinner that night. She took another nap in the car, a smile on her face, and I drove on through the rain storm reflecting on an almost perfect Father's Day.
This was one of those days in one of those weeks that will stay with the both of us forever. Now I had two days for my City Slickers test. It didn't get much better than this.
Anyone want some bass filets? I have a freezer full.
Born in Brooklyn NY, escaped to Long Island. Military service in the USAF (they thought I'd be a great air traffic controller. they were wrong). Became a New York City cop in the 80s when it was still fun. Interested in science fiction and country music, go figure. Interested in almost everything and knowledgeable about almost nothing, but I keep trying.
ABOUT SCOTT N. GAINES
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7.11.01 @ 8:55a
Mmmm, bass filets. Bread 'em in pancake mix and fry 'em up. The taste of my childhood.
7.11.01 @ 12:25p
Quite a darling piece. Few things are sexier than an loving father.
No, there is nothing Freudian in that remark.
7.11.01 @ 4:39p
Jael, the best recipe for the Striped Bass filets is like this: place in a plastic freezer bag, add Italian dressing and soy sauce, let marinate for at least one hour and barbecue on the grill, but first spray some Pam or rub a raw potato on the grill rack so the fish doesn't stick. About five-eight minutes a side. Tastes great.
Tracey, thanks. I'll let my wife know. Or maybe not.
7.11.01 @ 5:17p
I'll let my dad know the raw potato trick. Never heard of it. Cooool.
michelle von euw
7.12.01 @ 10:26a
I feel quite a strong connection to your daughter (Todd Benzinger = one year of Little League for me) -- although I never had such a successful day on the field. I hope Amy knows how lucky she is to have such a great father.
7.12.01 @ 10:41a
Scott - if your daughter's team needs a ringer, I've been told I'm quite good at batting against an 8-year-old pitcher.