And Your Mom Says to Open Up Your Stance

June 06, 1993|By SUSAN REIMER

Poor Joe. He's 9 years old. It's his first baseball season with an actual uniform. And his mom is a sportswriter.

The child must think he's living in a Twilight Zone version of spring training. The woman who packs his school lunch and washes his blue jeans is suddenly tinkering with his batting stance.

The woman who strokes his hair and kisses him while he sleeps is calling to him through the chain-link backstop with a warning, "There's a reason why they call it the 'hot corner,' you know."

Joe's mom knows just enough about baseball to make her dangerous.

"Mom, you're embarrassing me," he said. More than once.

It began, predictably, with the cup. That piece of equipment is required at the Pony League level. It was purchased in one of those special father-son bonding experiences. But I was immediately suspicious of what looked like a piece of Tupperware left in the microwave too long.

"Honey," I said to Joe's Dad. "I know this is a male thing. But I bathe that boy and that's way more protection than he needs. Why didn't you just buy the poor child a loaf pan."

Of course it didn't fit right. It rubbed or pinched or whatever. Joe didn't want to wear it, despite the fact that some Pony League coaches begin pre-game warm-ups by having the players knock twice on their crotch. A hard tapping sound means your uniform is complete.

"I don't need it," infielder Joe declared. "I can catch grounders just fine."

"Yeah, sure," I said. "But Cal Ripken handles grounders way better than you and he wears his." We didn't get into a discussion of how a woman sportswriter might know that.

Cal Ripken also doesn't eat hot dogs in the dugout during games. And Ripken's mother doesn't pass him a soda in the dugout on hot days, either. When your son gets bored and thirsty during games, it certainly helps to have a future Hall of Famer in your parenting arsenal.

But those mother-father conversations that we have to recap the children's day now have a kind of a box-score quality to them.

"How's everybody?" Joe's Dad wants to know.

"A putout, two assists, a single and a run scored. Two errors," is my response.

Of course I keep the official score book during games. My job makes me the obvious choice. I'd never be tapped for a Pony League bake sale. But I cannot bring my hard-nosed professionalism to the games with me.

"Inside-the-park home run!!!!" Matt's mother was shouting, her fists pumping the air at her son's success. And I'm thinking, "Error, shortstop. Error, first base. Error, second base. Error, catcher." But I did not write that in the official score book.

They let the kids pitch at this level, and their reasoning escapes me. The result is they have to put a clock on the games so the kids will get to bed before midnight. There aren't this many walkers in the malls at 8 a.m.

Joe has a first-rate batting stance (thank you very much). And his swing is level and strong. But he is no dummy. He quickly figured that if you stand in there long enough, you are almost guaranteed a base on balls. Or to be hit by a pitch.

That prompted this parent-child exchange, overheard in a quiet, private moment:

"You know Joe, nobody makes the major leagues because they walk real well. And nobody remembers his first major-league walk."

Next game, Joe's level swing meets the ball and he cracks a single to the gap in right-center field. (No error, honest).

Later, he is beaming with delight as he whispers through the chain-link fence. "Guess Dad was right, huh Mom?"

Lucky Joe. It's his first baseball season with an actual uniform. And his Dad is a sportswriter, too.

Joe's mother is Susan Reimer, a member of The Baltimore Sun's sports department. His father is Gary Mihoces, who covers sports for USA Today.

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