|Nice! Left hand under right hand! Back down, Verlander.|
And even though Halen doesn't know anything about baseball -- because Abu Halen is a bad father -- he just sensed down in his gut that he needed to swing a stick at a ball. Something ethereal was whispering to him, "It's opening day. You need to swing a stick at a ball." This probably frightened Halen a little -- he tends to be afraid of disembodied voices -- but it just felt right. Natural. Instinctual. From the tips of his little boy toenails that sort of need to be washed and clipped to the roots of his baby teeth that he grinds in his sleep, just like his dad.
I'm honestly not sure where the fat bat and the whiffle ball came from, but Halen had both tools of summer in hand as he waited excitedly for me to exit my car upon arriving home from school. "Dad, can you teach me how to play baseball?" His eyebrows arched hopefully. In his eyes I could see the ghosts of baseball legends of the past, and lots of them played for the Yankees, which gave me a sudden urge to poke Halen in the eye because I hate the Yankees. But I quickly realized that it wasn't Halen's fault that he had Yankees in his eyes, so I didn't.
I was conflicted. It was finals season. I was busy. But Halen was the picture of opening day. Plus, I read somewhere that you go to hell if you refuse to teach your son how to play baseball. So, experiencing a wave of affection for my little boy and a wave of fear of going to hell, I put down my books and my computer. We played ball on opening day.
I'm not going to lie. Halen stunk pretty bad right at first. He kept putting his right hand below his left on the bat handle. "Switch your hands," I reminded him over and over. "Try not to close your eyes when you swing," I suggested, which is an iteration of the old adage "keep your eye on the ball" that you use for little boys who aren't advanced enough for such complex baseball instruction.
Time passed. The smell of supper wafted across the backyard. "One more pitch, buddy," I said. Halen smiled. "Okay dad!" I lobbed one out over the plate. Halen closed his eyes -- don't do that! I thought -- and swung as hard as he could. Bapt! That's the sound of a fat, hollow bat hitting a whiffle ball. Maybe. The slightly misshapen whiffle ball arced over the parked vehicles, bounced once atop the seven-foot white fence separating our yard from the neighbors', and then left the yard. Home run.
Halen grimaced. "Sorry dad. I guess I lost the ball." "Halen," I said, "you just hit a home run. That's the best kind of hit in baseball." (Except for bloop singles, which are truly spectacular -- but I thought that truism could wait for another day). Halen brightened. He pushed out his chest a little, and together we walked over to the neighbors' house to fetch the ball, Halen chattering about how he can't wait to hit another home run and how his muscles must be huge, and me absently tousling his hair and fondly watching our two shadows lead us along the sidewalk. Mine always looks the same anymore. But his keeps getting longer and longer, and I wish it would stop. Pretty soon he's going to stop calling me daddy and start not calling me at all.
"I need to practice baseball again," Halen chirped happily, looking up at me as we strolled back home, whiffle ball in hand. I tousled his hair again -- dads just have a sense of when they're supposed to tousle their little boys' hair. "Sure thing, buddy," I said, getting a little misty eyed and glancing quickly over my shoulders to make sure none of the neighbors could see. It's only opening day. There's a lot of season left yet.