He’s 13 now, and we’ve had catches in the spring most years that he’s been able to hold a baseball in one hand. Well, maybe with the exception of those two years we lived in Alaska. I think maybe the weather kept us from having a real catch until technical summer.
We lined up with my back to the grill, where I could sneak over and turn the chops in between throws. He was out toward the southern fence.
The first throw hit my glove right in the palm, where the leather is thin, and your palm can really feel the contours of the ball.
It popped, loudly, with that pleasurable sound of leather on leather that sound equivalent of the smell of fresh-cut-grass or peanuts or cheap beer and hot dogs.
The sound of baseball.
Yes, the other half of that sound is the smack of a leather, wool, rubber and cork ball against maple, but that comes later, after the catch.
We threw for a few minutes, his tosses are strong, stronger than I remembered them being in a long time. But my memories ran back to the early years of being a father, when I wanted nothing more than to have a catch with them, but they were bumbling little balls of milk fat. They were small and uncoordinated, and, according to their pediatrician, had poorly developed large motor skills.
I took this to heart, because I’m only five-foot-five-inches tall and not all that athletic. I played soccer and baseball and football, but I was never any good. I loved the camaraderie too much for my friends to tell me how much I sucked at sports.
I thought they were doomed to be mediocre at sports like me, for the first few years of their lives. Never mind that I was gregarious and outgoing enough to overcome my deficiencies, I think like every father out there, you hope your sons can outdo your own physical achievements at some point.
As I looked across the brown grass that was covered in a foot of snow a week ago, I realized he is taller than me now. I realized that his long and lanky body looks nothing like mine at his age. He’s sinewy and strong, where I was a bit chunky and awkward.
As the next ball arrived in my glove from the end of his fingers, I realized that he has all the strength I ever wished for him and then some.
Sometimes people talk about a good pain. I usually look at them sideways, as if they’re just being poetic, and I can agree in general, though not specifically.
I noticed that he has lost that awkward wind-up that he often used to compensate for a lack of arm strength when he was a little boy, that stance that told me he was trying to prove himself to me was gone, replaced by a solid confidence.
When he throws it now, it has heat on it.
When I sent him inside to set the table for dinner, I took my glove off and looked at my red palm and rubbed it to get the feeling to return. As it did, I felt what I can only describe as good pain.
The truth of it is that as much I enjoyed the good pain that came after all those hard throws from that little boy who is no longer little, I also felt the pain that comes from the opposite side of that hour glass.
My shoulder stiffened up like a mitt left outside on a cold spring night, and the subscapularis muscle ached with a very different pain, a bad pain, a pain that I can only associate with age.
It was a reality check that dimmed the glow of that good pain a little, but not completely, and in that small difference is the joy of being a father.
In a few weeks, after we’ve had a few more catches, my arm will loosen up a bit, though each spring it takes a little bit longer.
All of my uncles have had rotator cuff surgery, which makes it easy to put the blame on genetics rather than aging.
The little guy is no longer little, but parents don’t live in a state of suspended animation either. Part of me wishes we could meet in the middle a while longer. Just a bit more overlap to enjoy the greening grass, the slap of a ball into a leather pocket a few more times, the confident smile on his face as his dreams and future accolades pour out of his mouth in a fountain of sugar-spun fantasies.
I suppose the wisdom that lets us actually realize they’re growing up can only be gotten with age. I’d love to have grown up with Carson, to be on an even playing field with him. But then I couldn’t see him through these eyes today or watch the progression of his life. And I suppose if I had to weigh one against the other, I’d take a little bad pain to experience the good.