Kid gloves or no, old dad drops ball on rite of spring

March 21, 1996|By KEVIN COWHERD

AS PART OF the timeless ritual of spring, my 4-year-old and I got out the baseball and gloves the other day and played catch.

These are the events that transpired, to the best of my recollection:

1 p.m. God, what a beautiful day! The sun is shining, the sky is so blue it hurts your eyes. I'm waving to my neighbor when, from two feet away, the boy fires a fastball that hits me square in the groin.

I go down like I was whacked in the face with a shovel.

The boy finds this hugely entertaining and laughs hysterically.

1: 01 "Maybe ... you could wait 'til Daddy's ready," I wheeze, tossing the ball back while trying to climb to my feet.

I'm almost up when the boy winds up and fires another fastball that catches me in the left temple.

1: 02 "Maybe ... you should back up a little," I say, climbing to my feet again.

At this, the boy takes a step back, and then another and another and another until finally the distance between us is the length of two football fields.

"Well, a little closer than that," I shout.

At this, the boy takes one step forward, and then another and another and another and keeps walking until he's about 16 inches from where I'm standing.

Mentally, I make a note to have the boy checked by our pediatrician. Seems to be a problem here with spatial relationships. Doesn't seem to be any middle ground with the boy.

1: 04 We're warming up slow and easy when the boy says: "OK, throw me a fly ball."

I throw him a fly ball, not very high, something he can handle. Except ... as the ball makes its descent, it suddenly occurs to me that the next sound we hear may be an ambulance siren, since the boy has positioned his glove too far to one side to make the catch.

Sure enough, the ball conks him on his forehead. It's a soft rubber ball, but the boy starts screaming like someone just sawed off his arm.

1: 05 I examine his forehead, but there's no bruise. So I rub it and give it a kiss, which is hard to do since, in addition to screaming, he's now jumping up and down.

"Good thing you're so tough," I say.

This causes the screaming to increase by several decibels.

"Yeah, tough as iron," I say, and now the screaming is so loud you can hear it in Pennsylvania.

Suddenly, the boy runs into the house.

Why do I have the feeling the neighbors are di- aling the juvenile authorities?

1: 07 The boy returns, still sniffling, accompanied by his mother, who does not look too pleased.

"Jamie says you threw the ball at him," she says.

"I didn't throw the ball at him!" I said. "He "

"Just remember he's only 4 years old," she says and walks away.

Nice talking to you, hon.

1: 09 The boy pulls his glove back on and asks: "Who's your favorite Oriole?"

I don't feel much like talking to some latter-day Hitler Youth Corps member who just turned me in to the Mom Gestapo.

"Da-a-ad! Who's your favorite Oriole?" he says again.

"OK, Cal Ripken," I say.

The boy looks at me like I said Peter Ustinov.

"CAL RIPKEN?" he says.

1: 10 Now I'm thinking: Did I miss something in the paper this morning? Did they bust Ripken in spring training with 15 kilos of cocaine in his car trunk?

"What's wrong with Cal Ripken?" I say.

The boy is quiet for several seconds.

Finally he says: "Could a stegosaurus beat a tyrannosaurus in a fight?" Mentally, I make a note to have the pediatrician check the boy's response patterns, too. Might be a problem with erratic thought arrangements, inappropriate rejoinders, that sort of thing.

1: 13 "Throw me some ground balls," the boy says.

I throw him four grounders, which he fields cleanly. On the fifth, he moves to his left and slams into a tree branch, which sets off a fresh round of screaming.

In terms of noise level, this screaming approaches an F-14 at take-off.

"They don't make 'em any tougher than you," I say, rubbing his arm and giving it a kiss.

1: 14 Apparently we're through playing catch. I say this because the boy has slammed his glove to the ground and run screaming back into the house.

This does not seem like a good sign.

Sure enough, he returns seconds later accompanied by my wife, who says: "He's a little boy, you know. He's not Cal Ripken."

"Speaking of Ripken," I say, "did he get busted or something?"

But my wife is already going back in the house.

Maybe when I call the pediatrician, she'll know.

Pub Date: 3/21/96

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