Throwing away the kid gloves

March 20, 1995|By KEVIN COWHERD

It was a fine Saturday morning when the boy, who is nearly 4, came to me with the gloves and a ball and asked if we could play catch.

Naturally, I said yes, because that's the kind of guy I am, and because throwing a baseball has always been a wonderful way for fathers and sons to bond, to learn about one another, and so on.

The boy's first throw caught me squarely in the groin.

All I remember is a white-hot flash of pain and then I was crashing to the pavement in what seemed like a series of painstaking, elaborate movements.

Years ago, in the interior foothills of Puerto Rico, I watched an angry farmer whack an ox in the leg with an ax handle.

It was amazing to watch the animal's reaction. First the one leg went out from under him, and then another and another until finally he collapsed slowly in a swirl of dust, like a building brought down with explosives.

This is what I must have looked like when the ball hit me in the groin, except I don't remember the ox crying out in pain.

"Wait . . . 'til Daddy's ready," I wheezed after a moment or two.

The boy laughed, finding this incredibly funny, and then I stood up to look for my glove so we could resume the timeless ritual of baseball flying through the air in a gentle arc, baseball meeting leather, etc.

The boy's next throw caught me in the temple.

Did I mention the boy has a terrific arm? I should probably mention that. I went down again and this time the entire sequence was more deliberate, like a sequoia being felled and toppling to the floor of the forest.

For several seconds, I sat there stunned, trying to remember where I was, my address and telephone number, all the things you do when a concussion is feared.

The boy was laughing again, except my mind was so muddled that the sounds out of his mouth seemed distant and distorted, as if he were speaking underwater.

"Let . . . Daddy get his glove on before you throw," I said, and then climbed to my feet once more.

This time the boy was kind enough to wait until I was actually ready, and the two of us played catch.

OK, I say we played catch. But the truth is, the boy wasn't doing much catching.

He's not quite 4 years old, after all, and still has a few fundamental flaws in his approach to catching, the major flaw being that he closes his eyes.

"This is just a thought," I said, "but you should try keeping your eyes open when the ball comes near your glove. I think that will really help."

But he preferred to do it his way -- you know how kids are -- and this resulted in a predictable pattern.

The pattern went something like this: I would throw the ball. He would miss the ball. Then he would run after the ball as it rolled and rolled and rolled down the street.

This, as you might imagine, tended to slow things down considerably.

It's hard to get into the timeless rhythm of throwing and catching a baseball when one partner is chasing the ball down the street every 30 seconds. But that's the way it goes sometimes.

At one point while we were playing catch, my wife came outside and asked me a question. And even as I turned to answer her, I knew I had just made a big, big mistake.

Sure enough, at that precise moment, the ball slammed into my Adam's apple.

Combat veterans have a saying: It's the shell you don't hear that lands in your foxhole and kills you, and there must be a corollary with baseballs you don't see.

All I knew was that the white-hot pain was back, and now I was reeling around the yard and gasping for air and making gurgling sounds: "AH KA EEEE! AH KA EEEE!"

"What, you want to eat?" my wife said.

"I . . . can't . . . breathe!" I managed finally, and then I collapsed to the ground once more.

It was at this point that we decided to knock off for the day.

This, remember, was the third time I had been down. Three strikes and you're out. Three outs and the inning is over.

There's a symmetry there, a finality that had to be observed.

Anyway, the two of us had a fine time playing catch. And we'll probably do it again real soon.

Although I wouldn't want to be pinned down as to exactly when.

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