Friday, October 29, 2010

Empathizing with Rangers' wild thing

Watching young Derek Holland implode - walking three straight batters on 13 pitches and singlehandedly turning a 2-0 Rangers deficit into a 9-0 Giants rout in Game 2 of the World Series - it reminded me of the only thing that made me a nervous wreck as the parent of child athletes.

I watched Ben and Katie play football, basketball, baseball, soccer and softball. I watched them participate in track and field, learn to ride bikes, dive into pools and clown around with their friends. I pretty much never worried about anything, even when they were shooting free throws with the game on the line.

Except when Ben pitched as a wee lad.

If you've ever been a parent of a Little Leaguer, or if you played youth baseball yourself, you know that the pitcher's ability (or inability) to throw strikes is about 90 percent of the game.

If the kid throws the ball over the plate, even if his or her "stuff" consists almost entirely of batting-practice-quality slowballs, the team will have a chance to win. If the kid walks too many batters, the team is doomed.

Unlike the center fielder or the second baseman or whoever is batting at any given time, the pitcher is watched closely by every pair of eyes in the park from the moment the ump says "play ball" until another pitcher enters the game.

When Ben was at the plate, I wasn't the least bit nervous. Either he'd get a hit or he wouldn't. If he struck out, so what? Lots of kids did. It was a quick and noble death.

If things weren't clicking when he pitched, however, it was slow torture.

If it got bad enough, I couldn't watch. I would get up and walk to a place I was sure he couldn't see me, helping him resist the urge to look my way and helping me hide my anxiety. But I still could hear exactly what was going on, and I still felt for the little guy with every fiber of my being.

It wasn't that I was embarrassed as a parent or even concerned that Ben would fail. It was the IMPORTANCE of it all, especially to the other parents in the stands and the coaches in the dugout who were watching every move Ben made.

If Ben walked a batter and then fell behind 2-0 to the next, the "encouragement" was inevitable. And unbearable.

"C'mon, Ben, you can do it!"

"C'mon, Ben, just throw a strike!"

"Here we go, Ben, just lay it in there!"

The more they'd "encourage" him, the more he'd press, trying to steer the ball instead of throwing it.

And then he'd miss the strike zone again.

It was painful ... until mercifully, another kid would take the mound and Ben could go to the relative anonymity of shortstop or left field.

Thankfully, Ben actually was an OK pitcher with pretty decent control. Discounting the time he plunked three straight batters - arm, hip, head, plink, plank, plunk, saved for posterity in a now-hilarious video - he rarely was as wild as Holland was last night for the Rangers.

He certainly was no Rick Ankiel.

And yet I was relieved when, the following season, he did what Ankiel had to do and switched positions.

As a catcher, the pressure was off - and both he and I actually could enjoy the games.

1 comment:

  1. do you think if ankiel would have been pulled after the first wild pitch...he would still be pitching...