Closing Time

The uniforms have all been washed and put in the regular tshirt drawer. The cleats have been relegated to the storage bin. The gear bag hasn’t been opened in days. The steak is marinating and the sangria is steeping for the parents only party.

Baseball season is officially over.

Some of the boys from the teams are soldiering on with travel ball, but my Terrors are settling into the drab routine of the summer slow down. There are no more practices. No more eating on the run. No more taking it easy because they have a game tonight. I can’t tell if they are happy about this or not, but there is always a sense of deflation after the last game of the season.

I have been awful about keeping everyone in the loop about the boys’ seasons. The big boys had a season for the record books, and I will post about that next. But first, I have to tell you about my Mariners.

I couldn’t have written a better experience, so I am going to wax nostalgic about the whole thing, not just this season.

We started off three years ago as the Nationals, with eight kindergardeners and a handful of bigger boys. There was little chance of us winning many games, and truth be told, I don’t think we managed even one “W”. But none of us even cared. The kids were having fun. They were learning about how to play baseball, not just learning how to play to win. The little munchkins got to play infield positions. The big boys hit some home runs. The little guys started to catch the ball instead of cringing when it came near them.

While the comedy that is rookie t ball took place on the field, the parents slowly started to forge friendships on the sidelines. We learned all the players’ names, then started to learn each other’s. Water bottles and juice boxes gave way to carefully disguised adult beverages. It wasn’t long before we were getting together off the field. We started to run into each other at school, at the pool, at the grocery store. There were backyard BBQ’s and parties. We formed a community, and for the first time I felt intertwined with my neighborhood, my school.

For our second year, our Coach calmly entered the offices where Those-That-Make-the-Rosters reside with a list of our players. This was our team. This was non-negotiable. They got their revenge by switching us to the Mariners. This meant our gift to Coach of a Nat’s jersey became a little useless, but gave us the chance to purchase him a new silver and blue one.

By biggest son moved on to pitch ball, and it made me realize what a special gift my Mariners were. While I enjoyed the new league immensely, I found myself looking forward to my Mariners games with a special smile. I would get to hang out with my friends.

Coach expected more of the kids, and they did their best to deliver. We now had all first graders, with the Rookie and four older boys. Balls streaked through the legs of infielders, soared over the heads of outfielders, and sometimes, just sometimes, were thrown with authority into the outstretched glove of our first baseman. They were becoming little baseball players. We even won some games.

I suffered through another off-season bulking the boys up with steroids and raw beef, and then realized with some sadness that only the Rookie would be with the Mariners this year. The older two had graduated to the next league up. The Mariners had also lost two families from the line up, both of whom would be sorely missed. But I had to enjoy this, my last season of Mariners ball: all of our Coach’s sons (and thus the Coaches) were moving on up at the end of the season.

They tried to split us up. Apparently having eight kindergardeners is having an expansion team, but having those same boys on the same team as second graders is stacking the team. Coach would have none of it, and went around collecting our boys and giving the head office what for. Again, this was our team. This was non-negotiable.

Coach, either drunk or insane, decided that if I was going to spend all season yelling “RUN!” at the base runners from the sidelines, I might as well be the first base coach. I, either drunk or insane, agreed.

I encouraged them until I was hoarse with gems like  “What are you looking at? Run!”, “Faster, it’s a race!” and “When you get to 2nd you stand on that base and look at Coach!”.

I got a t shirt and an awful picture of me on picture day (note to self, ponytail under baseball hat is NOT a good look for a portrait). I also got the excuse to go to practice even if the Rookie couldn’t make it. I got to gently remind Coach that the boy following the Rookie in the line up would certainly pass him on the bases. I got to be in on the strategy sessions, and got a copy of the line up every game, and I got to slap the hands of all the little All Stars-to-be in the “good game” line at the end of it all.

My Mighty Mariners were catching infield flies. Our crack third baseman had learned that bruises heal and threw his body in front of anything that came his way. Our hitters found the outfield in a big way, and grand slams were not uncommon. There were moments of brilliance interspersed with the inevitable mental lapses. We welcomed two new Rookies who never once looked at the ball when they ran to first (they were my favorites). We went undefeated for the first few games of the season.

We hit the playoffs with an 0-2 record in the post season. We won our first ever playoff game with style and what looked suspiciously like skill. Our next game was against a really good team. Imagine how proud we were when we won. Not only did we win, we played well. Despite our best efforts the little buggers had actually learned the game. They played their hearts out and showed us how much they had grown while we weren’t paying attention.

The Rookie goes back and forth about playing next year. He can’t comprehend t ball without the Mariners; he cannot remember a time without them. The thought of playing for someone other than Coach makes him a little nervous. Truth be told, it makes me a little nervous too.

I don’t know what baseball is going to be like going forward. There will be no more guacamole. There will be no more going out to dinner if there is a rain out. There will be no more Mariner’s family, and, to me, that’s what we became.

I’m sure I will still see everyone around town, at the occasional BBQ, or at a sandlot game. At least, I hope I will. But it won’t be the same. That’s the thing about life that consistently sucks: things change.

So, for one last time, I give you:

The Mighty Mariners

(I am linking to a Gallery instead of embedding this time…)

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