The Season of My Ignorance
It's that time of year again. You know what I'm talking about, that time where ordinary people lose their sense of normalcy, when grown men paint their bodies with wild colors and large numbers and root for men shaped like mountains to pulverize each other for a dried-out pigskin. Football American-style, which is not to be confused with the English-style football, which we've named soccer. I wonder how much confusion that produces. I imagine a young boy in England, whose parents have been pushing him towards football, sitting down at the computer and researching the lifelong dreams of his parents. The unsuspecting youth clicks on a video clip and is assaulted by an American NFL rivalry that has a dozen men piling on top of a receiver clearly under matched. I can see his wide eyes and open mouth, hear the shock in his voice. "What the bloody hell. They want to kill me." He then runs off to be a male stripper.
Everyone I know talks about settling down with a cold one and watching the "big game" on the weekend. I never got it. Then again, I was never all that gung-ho over any sport, even Checkers, which I hear is classified a sport now and not just a game. That, of course, makes even less sense to me because if any game should be made into a sport I think it should be Twister where at least there is an inkling of muscle use. Or, what about Beer Pong where Ping-Pong is made more challenging by the person's inebriated state?
Television is now taken over with Monday Night Football, Thursday Night Football as well as all day Saturday and Sunday. There are dozens of channels devoted solely for the sports enthusiasts, full of pre-game shows and pre-pre-game shows. Then when the game is finally over you have hours of post-game reviews by men who can no longer survive on the artificial turf telling you exactly what you just finished watching.
"Well, John, what you see here is the quarterback throwing a 20-yard spiral right over the receiver's head and into the skull of that 30-year old water boy."
"I bet he wishes he would have caught that ball, Bill."
"Well no shit, John."
And these people make more than the people who chase serial killers. Our priorities are screwed up.
Friday nights are devoted to high school football, which has become so popular that television stations now offer coverage of it, as well. Even in high school I wasn’t excited about high school football. I went to the pep rallies because it allowed us to skip last period and the games were mere social events to me. I hung out more under the bleachers than in them cheering on our team. I had my own cheers going on.
I may not be into sports now but that wasn't always the case. I did play baseball for awhile. I was never good enough to play with those who were really skilled, of course. Still, I did excel in the Little League Minors in our town. I had even helped my dad coach one year and actually enjoyed it, but that was years ago, back when my dad held out hope for a son who knew that stealing bases was not a crime.
He remains disappointed to this day. I don't feel all that bad really because Dad can no longer watch sports. The doctor doesn’t like what it does to his heart rate when he gets excited, which means we don’t take him to the beach, either. I am so inept at sports that when it was my turn to be a coach for my son, my father booed me off the field. Of course, I would have done the same thing if I had been watching me, but to have it done by your father is quite embarrassing. In his defense, though, I had just hit his six-year old grandson with a hardball.
Now, before you get all riled up and want to tar and feather me, I was attempting to be a decent father. I realize those two statements, pegging my son with the ball and being a decent father, may not seem to go together, so allow me to explain. Please keep in mind that I have already confessed to being a failure at sports. Still, my boys wanted to participate and as a good parent who had no clue what I was getting myself into, I signed them up. I mean, just because I didn't like sports didn't mean I couldn't sit in the bleachers screaming my head off for my children. I was sure they would tell me what I had been cheering about when I got home. Plus, Char liked sports and could help me out during the game. It would be simple.
It was far from simple.
Oh, it would have been if I had kept my fanny in the bleachers, but I was tricked.
You see, sports teams require coaches and managers for which there is always a shortage. It seems that the dads who are athletic are busy with careers and I’ve never been a career-minded person so I had plenty of available time. The same thing happened when the boys played soccer. Each time I was approached to step up and lend a hand.
"You won't really need to do anything, Mr. Cox. We have a head coach and merely need you to help during practice."
"Okay, because I wouldn't know what to tell the quarterback to do."
"We don't have a quarterback, Mr. Cox. We have pitchers."
"Tea or lemonade, because my wife can make pitchers of either one to help out?"
The people behind the desk just looked at each other. "You sure there's no one else?"
Char asked the same question when I told her what I was going to do. "You sure you're not going to have to do anything but show up? I'm not working; I could do it for you.” Truth is she would have been much better at it. She grew up in a neighborhood full of athletic boys and could out throw most of them. Even today she has a better spiral on a football than most men I know.
"It will be fun to do with Nathan. It’ll be a great father-son bonding time."
She didn't look convinced. Neither did Nathan.
So, I'm now the assistant coach, which means I get to help carry the bats and keep score. That was fine by me. I was participating and everyone was happy. That is, until the night the head coach had to work late.
At that age, it's coaches pitch, and I was the only coach left. This was not a good thing. Char patted my cheek. "This should be fun.” She then went and sat with my parents in the bleachers.
“Fun” was not the word I was saying in my head. My stomach was in knots and my hands clammy, which is not good for pitching a ball. To make my breakfast flip even more, the first up to bat was my son.
Standing on the mound, it seemed like a mile to home plate. So many flashbacks went through my mind at that moment, the main one being the night that half of my Little League team wound up in the hospital during a game. I don’t remember who we were playing, but I do remember the car ride over. The opposing team’s pitcher took out half of our starting line up with wild pitches. Frank and I were two of the first hit and my mom and a family friend, Pauline, put us in the back of the car and drove like bank robbers being pursued. My mom fussed all the way that any other time they’d have been pulled over by then but that night there wasn’t a cop on the road.
I had been hit in the side and just knew my kidneys were ruptured and was wailing to let my mom know, as well. Turns out I was merely bruised, but it felt like every rib was broken. As we sat in the waiting room more of our team was brought in and updates given. Our best players were out but we were still winning. Plans were made openly of meeting the other pitcher in some dark alley for batting practice.
Our team won that day, but I lost. A fear was put inside of me that I hadn’t realized had crippled me until I stood there on that mound facing my son.
I took a deep breath and prayed. First, I tried and over hand pitch. Wasn’t that how men did it? However, because I was afraid of hitting him, of giving him the pain and fear I had been given, the pitch went far to the outside. Swallowing my man pride, I switched to a slow, underhand pitch and the first one almost hit him.
My dad started fussing at this point. “He can’t even pitch like a girl. He has to come from your side of the family.”
The next ball I threw hit Nathan on his side, not hard, but it was still me hitting my son. Now, my dad was loud. "Throw the bum out! Get a new pitcher.” I was ready to throw up. I didn’t want to play anymore.
Nathan took his base and I asked the coach from the other team to pitch for ours as well. I never left the dugout.
So, it's at this time of year that I am reminded of how very little I have in common with the men, as well as half the women, around me. Everyone has on their team logos and shouts for their favorite quarter back, Fantasy Football teams are formed and played and I haven't got a clue as to what they're talking about or why they're so excited about it. The words “fantasy” and “football” do not go together in my mind but that’s another essay for another time. In the past I’ve faked my way through football pools just going down the list and checking teams at random. Now, I don’t even try.
Last year we were invited to a friend's for Super Bowl Sunday, which I was told had nothing to do with the size of his toilet. That, of course, would have been something I understood. The girls went and bought matching shirts with the Saints emblem emblazoned on the front, ready to cheer the team on to victory. I took a pen, paper and a book.
Thus, the Season of my Ignorance has begun. The guys at work talk game highlights on Monday and I stand there and just nod my head. It doesn't matter to me who wins or even whose playing. I don’t get into the razzing as each shouts how their team can kick the other team’s padded ass or how great their quarterback is. I still think athletes are grossly overpaid and teachers underpaid. The only real reason I cheer for the Seminoles is because Char cheers for the Gators and a little rivalry is always fun.
Still, let the season begin and may the Dodgers win the Super Bowl. Or is that Hockey?
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