Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Passing Along Baseball to the Next Generation

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on April 13, 2012

I can’t remember exactly which sportswriter once turned the phrase, but it’s one of my favorite quotes: “Spring – when a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of glove.”

Baseball is underway, and for this fan that has always been the sport which brings with it the greatest emotional attachment. Right now that emotion is mostly frustration, given the painful start by our beloved and bewildering Red Sox. But this baseball season brings a new beginning for me and opens yet another chapter in the rather boring saga that is my life.

You see, today I am less concerned with what goes on at Fenway Park and more with what is taking place at Everett Leonard Field in Norton. The games I can’t wait to watch are not going to be televised, and won’t even be on radio. I won’t need a ticket to attend them, and in fact may have to provide my own seat.

This spring and summer, my grandson Will (did I mention his name is William?) will be playing baseball in Norton. It’s really T-ball, and I guess “games” would be a generous description of the actual activities. After all, he did just turn four years old and I assume his teammates and those on the opposing squads will be around the same age. I’m not sure many of them even know yet what a team is yet.

At this age there is little emphasis on competition and a great deal on having fun and learning the game. Normally, that would not hold much interest for me. I’m a pretty competitive guy, though athletically I’ve never been much competition for anyone. But whether playing checkers with my uncles as a kid, shooting backyard hoops with my sons, or playing online word games with my wife – I always want to win.

But being a grandfather has apparently softened me up a bit. Right now I can’t wait to go and watch my favorite four-year-old swing a miniature bat at a ball set up for him on a stick. He is on a team, will have a uniform shirt, and will be playing the greatest of all sports. I’ll just have to adapt to the fact no one is keeping score.

I already bought him a real baseball bat so he could practice with me and his dad in the front yard. It’s a little heavy for him, but he manages to get around with it pretty well. He’s got a good stroke, hitting the ball regularly both off the tee and pitched from a relatively close distance. He’s not too sure which way to run after he hits it, but a little coaching should take care of that.

I gave Will a real baseball glove for his birthday, and soon he will figure out which hand it goes on. He has already decided hitting is a lot more fun than fielding, and when we play he usually makes me wear his glove while I pitch to him. He is also very impressed with the batting gloves I gave him, although I’m pretty sure he thinks they are just to keep his hands warm.

My son is helping to coach Will’s team, something which makes the experience all that more meaningful and fun for me. I never coached him when he played in Norton Youth Baseball (although I did coach his brother’s team, as he reminded me recently), but I am so happy he is getting involved early with his son’s sporting activities. He’s complaining he got roped into it, but the pride and excitement in his eyes renders that moaning and groaning meaningless.

With all due respect to the many wonderful sports-minded mothers out there, baseball is a game that somehow magically bonds fathers, sons and grandfathers. My dad was never a huge fan when I was growing up, but my grandfather was a real baseball guy. He bought me my first glove, and it is a tradition I was proud and determined to keep alive.

So most Saturdays in May and June, you’ll find me watching a bunch of preschoolers run around chasing baseballs. I’ll be easy to spot. I’ll be the guy with the big smile yelling at the coach.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and a big fan of both his grandchildren. He can be reached at

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