Early May is one of my favorite times of the year.
I love the energy and optimism out in the dirt, the return of bright colors set against green, the annual rebirth of dreams for the coming season.
Sure, my wife’s exquisite garden beds are a delight. But I’m talking about baseball.
Every year, during the winter doldrums, I look forward to Opening Day and another six months — or seven, cross my fingers — with the Boston Red Sox, the team forever imprinted on me from my Massachusetts origins.
Spring also brings back memories of playing Little League baseball and catch with my dad, two distinctly American rituals. Certain bits from games have stayed with me over the years: the thrill of connecting with a pitch and sending it soaring into the outfield; the sudden adrenaline jolt of a fly ball headed toward me; the constant infield chatter. Hey, batter, batter, suh-wing.
My early career aspirations of roaming Fenway Park’s left field died when I moved to Virginia in middle school, jumped into Babe Ruth ball and ran smack into real pitching from guys already growing mustaches.
Though a dream faded, a romance didn’t, in part because of those catches. I may not have been able to hit a slider, but I could snag a toss and fling it back, each thunk in my Jim Rice model glove reinforcing my connection to the game.
They also built hand-eye coordination that served me well later as a soccer goalie and basketball center in high school.
Now that I’ve got two teenage boys — however that happened overnight — I find myself feeling wistful at times.
They like baseball well enough, mostly, I think, because of my interest. Their relationship always has been casual. They don’t pore over box scores like their father did — OK, still does — while trying to keep a daily scrapbook of the 1979 Red Sox season.
Sometimes when I see backyard or park catches these days, or glimpse children in baseball uniforms being loaded into minivans, I wonder if my sons missed out. Truth be told, maybe it’s also about me. A few times, we tried to play catch but it didn’t take with them. I let it go, figuring it wasn’t meant to be, but now and then regret tugs.
Should I have tried harder? More catches? Bought a practice net like the one I had to bounce back line drives and grounders? Did I fall short in the dad department?
It’s all right, though.
If I stop and really think about it, it was the right call, even if I’ll never sit in stands cheering them on.
I sit in auditorium rows instead.
My sons simply chose another athletic direction.
At an early age, they wanted to take dance classes, tap first, then later branching out to jazz, modern and ballet. They’re both quite accomplished now, if I may say so myself as a proud parent.
Their commitment opened my eyes to the strength, flexibility, coordination, stamina and mental focus demanded by dance. I could appreciate fully the story a talented local dancer in high school once told me.
He had a defensive back’s physique, and could leap like a blacktop hoops star, exploding into seemingly weightless flights. His friends in football and other sports, top athletes themselves, were curious but a little skeptical. What was it like in the studio? Just how hard could dancing really be?
So he invited them to go through one of his workouts. They wound up with drenched shirts, burning muscles and a newfound appreciation.
My point isn’t to elevate dance above baseball or any competition sport. Both are worthwhile and rewarding pursuits. I’m glad to have played on various youth and scholastic teams, as countless boys and girls enjoy, just as I’m happy my sons found their own path and have been able to grow strong and develop self-confidence through the arts.
Like martial arts, dance is a valid athletic alternative — or could be more often with different thinking.
Boys remain the exception in dance, though their numbers, at least locally, are increasing. I only can guess that it’s still seen by some as effeminate, never mind that many pro athletes sharpen their flexibility, agility and core strength by incorporating dance into their training regimens.
That’s a shame if such bias exists. The next Gene Kelly, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Gregory Hines or Michael Jackson might be languishing in a right field somewhere, waiting for a pop fly, never realizing his potential.
He’ll never know until he tries.
Our community is home to several dance studios, some of which are enrolling for summer sessions. One, the Central Pennsylvania Dance Workshop, offers a monthlong intersession starting Monday. Families can try a dance class or two without committing to a semester program.
Take the first step of perhaps many more.
As for my family, we’ve got another recital performance coming up — a spring father-son tradition that’s been a bigger home run than my younger self ever could have imagined.