two thousand twenty
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It was time to take the young man to his first baseball game.

My grandson Jaden is three. He lives with his single mom, my middle daughter. I supply the male role modeling. This week it was baseball.

I decided to take him to see Tommy’s Tavern play in the Phelps Community Softball League. The team has several Newark coaches on it, some other guys I’ve gotten to know, and an occasional newly graduated high school player whiling away some hours before college.

“We’re going to see the big boys play baseball,” I told Jaden.

Two minutes out of the car at the Phelps Firemen’s Fields and Jaden told me, “I don’t see any big boys.”

Right in front of us was Scott Tilburg, who plays for The Rage. Scott is well over six feet and, I’m guessing, 240 pounds. “He’s a big guy,” I told Jaden.

“I don’t see any big guys,” he shot right back. Three years old, three feet tall and 42 pounds…and he’s already talking trash.

A second reason I picked a softball game is that the league plays with a bright yellow ball, and I figured Jaden could follow the flight of it. The guys hit that ball a long, long way. Because the bleachers are ten feet from the bench, he could see how the big guys acted, up close and personal.

How they acted was a little bit of a concern to me. Big guys also use big guy language on the field. Jaden has an unnatural gift for picking up things people say and repeating them at the most inopportune moments.

For instance, he likes to say, “What the…” often, and every time it comes out, we’re all waiting for the last word with teeth clenched and eyes closed. But so far, so good. “What the heck” is common.

And although I didn’t say anything to the Tommy’s players, and Jaden was the only child within earshot, they were mindful. I’m especially grateful to Jason DeWind, who made the last out in the first inning and came off the field upset.

“OH Ffffffffff-oey,” he said, changing course in mid-word. He had a big guy phrase coming out that Jaden would have certainly dropped in mixed company and cited the activity his grandfather took him to as the source of the wonderful word. But Jason improvised and adapted. And I’m grateful.

Jaden’s interest stuck with the game for a couple of innings, then he went off to hunt for rocks.

And we had our first big bonding moment of the late afternoon.

He ran over to the bleacher where I was sitting.

“Granddad, I have to go potty.”

“We have to go into the woods,” I told him.

“Is it scary in there?” he asked.

“Not usually,” I said.

In we went, and Jaden accomplished the deed before I could count to 10. He was so pleased with himself, when a couple of other little kids showed up for the second game, he told them right away where the potty was. He would have given guided tours if I had let him.

For the last inning or so, Jaden had borrowed one of the white softballs out of Tommy’s manager Will Bean’s equipment bag. Jaden left the ball with me to go take leaves off a tree with two other boys. The game ended, and the players left the field.

Then I noticed we still had Bean’s ball.

I told Jaden he had to return it to Mr. Bean. Problem was, Mr. Bean was 50 yards away from us and walking to his car.

“You’ll have to run to catch him,” I said.

And off Jaden went, his little legs chugging along just like his hero, Thomas the Tank Engine. By the time he caught Will, Jaden had covered the whole field, more than 100 yards. He handed the ball to Mr. Bean, then promptly dropped on his bottom in the grass, panting.

“I’m tired, Granddad,” he told me when I caught up to him. He was also hot and sweaty. I got him some water, put him in the car seat, and he put down the window so the air could hit him on the way home.

He waved at the players as we drove away from the field. He marveled at the cornfields and the summer sun going down. He asked to finish a piece of chicken we left in the fridge on our way to the game. He talked about riding his bike when we got home. He covered a lot of ground that night.


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