My 5 year old son, Sam, has his very first T-ball practice this week. He’s very excited about it.
We were at Wal-Mart, buying baseball gloves, when I realized I was actually far more anxious than happy about this. Sports and I have not had a particularly good relationship over the years. I was very much like Sam when I was little. I loved watching the Cubs play on TV, and my favorite player was Ron Cey because his nickname was “The Penguin” (after the way he waddled when he ran) and his batting average was .300 and that seemed high. I played baseball with my sister or school friends in my backyard using an ogre-club-sized green plastic bat all the time.
I was definitely not athletic in grade school, though. I couldn’t run or jump worth a damn, and my DEX score was sufficiently low that my face has seen pavement more than a few times from me doing nothing more than running. This paved the way for disaster the summer before 6th grade, when I decided I really wanted to try out for the school baseball team. I hadn’t been in little league and I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I’d thrown and caught a real baseball a handful of times. My first indicator that this was not the best idea should have been the first day when I insisted that – unaware of the existence of “baseball pants” – I was supposed to pull my socks up over my jeans because that’s how real baseball players did it. My second indication should have been when we were playing catch to warm up and I caught the ball with my head. Needless to say, I did not make the team, and I was absolutely crushed. I got bullied a lot as a kid, and there were a few on the team that now had ammunition with which to taunt me. In fact, it was right about this point that I started to associate jocks with two things: dating the cute cheerleaders that I wanted to notice me, and beating me up.
I can, however, say that this incident was not the thing that drove me to D&D and geekery. In fact, I was so upset when I got home after finding out I didn’t make the team that I waited a whole day to finish the board game I was making based on the monsters from the D&D 1e Fiend Folio.
Being prone to melodrama, I have some concerns about dipping my precious son by the heel into the river Sports.
I worry that he’ll feel like I did. He is built very much like his father. Bendy ligaments, lots of HP, but tends to bounce off things. He’s timid about running and climbing and jumping just like I was. That being said, he is also 5 and has plenty of time to acquire the skills I didn’t have. I also worry about overcompetitive psycho parents at games and coaches breaking kids down using negative reinforcement to get them to perform.
I also worry about him becoming like the jocks that used to torment me when I was in school, like sports would be some sort of marinade that renders him a tender, delicious jerk. My irrational fear generator put out some top-shelf material on this one. Some parents worry about their kids getting on drugs. I worry about mine making a nerdy kid cry.
My other fear is a bit more insidious. I’ve dreamed ever since Sam was born of introducing him to gaming of a thousand different flavors, teaching him how to code, and everything else under the spectrum of Nerd. I want to raise a geek, and have fun with him until he moves out, and then once he’s done with college (because they’ll never call you unless they need money) he can bring the grandkids over and we’ll all play Settlers of Catan.
Now we’re introducing him into things I recognize, but the world is foreign to me. I feel like an alien who has read the rules for baseball but might misinterpret a crowd doing the wave as some kind of attack. I don’t know that I can name a baseball player that hasn’t been in the news for steroid use. I don’t know what getting him into sports means for him or his relationship with us, if he’ll like it or for how long, if I’ll have to protect him from some sort of sports-related asshattery. Yes, I’m thinking about Dr. Who-style monsters of the week chasing us around, with sports equipment where their heads should be. It’s how I cope, OK?
I’m scared he’ll love that world and not want anything to do with mine. Yup, definitely irrational. Hooray for baggage. What will probably happen is that he’ll love doing it and then we’ll do lots of nerdy stuff together on days he is not swinging his baseball-hammer. Or he may get hot and bored in the outfield and declare he hates it forever. A man can dream.
Alternate Gaming Reality
To stave off the freakouts while I wait for the reality of the situation to be much better and far more boring than my worst fears claim, my dear wife has had me considering the positives. He’ll learn about commitment and how to work with a team. He’ll get the skills I never had. He’ll be more active and healthy than I was. Hopefully, he’ll get a good coach who’s a positive influence — my life took a definite upswing once started karate as a teenager and got some great people to look up to.
One thing that’s irking me is that apparently for the first several years of T-ball and even into coach-pitch baseball, and nobody keeps score. While I get that this is a chance for them to learn how to do things before there’s any competition, I was under the impression that was called “practicing”. By no means do I want preschool T-ball to be extremely competitive, but I do think learning how to win and lose graciously is a valuable skill many people I know of all ages do not possess. For some reason, I’m viewing this in the same light as fudging combat as a DM so the players are never in any real danger. Not that I’m trying to teach my players how to die graciously. I told you I was going to have some trouble with this culture.
It’s interesting to me that, after six years of blogging about trying new things and playing well with others that a game — another gaming culture, really — has terrified me so. Maybe it’s not so different. I hear all the time that fantasy sports is basically D&D for muggles. I’ll just use the word “fantasy” a different way than everyone else. If that means Ron Cey can polymorph into a werepenguin, so be it.
In the meantime, regardless of what he decides, his mom and I are going to do our part to make sure the road ahead is a positive one. No matter what, we’ll tell Sam he can be his own person and do the things he loves, and we’ll always love him no matter what. I just hope he still wants to fight with lightsabers through it all. But not in the way where somebody loses a hand. That’s not good parenting.