I’ve never understood.
Possibly — probably — because I don’t have children. But still . . .
I’ve never understood why, all summer long, so many parents choose to spend their weekends — and usually at least one weeknight — at the ballpark. They wilt in the sweat-inducing heat, watching kids play a game that at times moves slower than Albert Pujols “running” down the first base line.
And I’m not talking just teenage baseball. Coach-pitch and T-Ball fields in our area have become summer campgrounds, filled with families wearing holes in lawn chairs.
But as I’ve always said, there is one thing of which you could be certain. You would never see me sweating my Saturday and Sunday away, watching kids chase ground balls all the way to the outfield fence.
I like my air conditioning too much.
So, of course, I spent last weekend — eight games over three days that were hotter than hell’s kitchen — watching some of the best young players in the south.
I’ve learned a lot in almost 59 years. When your fiancé says “We’re going” to watch her grandson play for the 6-and-under T-Ball Championship, you go.
The Dixie Youth Baseball World Series was in Monroe. “The Big Show” for 58 teams: 696 players 11 years old and younger, playing live pitch, coach pitch, and T-Ball.
“These kids earned their trip here,” Johnny Drake told me. He’s the District Five Director for Louisiana. “They had to play through their sub-districts, districts, and now they’re here at the World Series.”
And it was a World Series atmosphere. Outside the East Ouachita Sports Complex — a beautiful facility renovated four years ago for $12 million — you would have thought the SEC Tournament had moved to northeast Louisiana. Parents and families from as far away as Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama wore their state school’s colors.
The orange block “T.”
The black “G.”
The script “A.”
RV’s — not travel trailers, but big-time motor homes — lined the back side of the rock-surfaced parking lot. Trucks and SUV’s — not many cars to be seen here — were forced to be parked on neighborhood streets, where there were threats to call tow trucks.
Why so few cars? They simply don’t have enough room to carry the necessities. We’re talking tents, chairs, battery-operated fans, battery chargers, coolers and food. All loaded onto a wagon that you pull, wearing you out before ever getting to the entrance.
Were these people going to watch a game, or compete on Survivor?
One question before we leave the parking lot. How do drivers see out of their back and side windows? Most every vehicle had something painted on the glass.
“World Series Bound!”
“Honk for Henry #1!”
So, for someone who has no experience with any of this, my question to parents was obvious.
“Because my kid loves the game,” Starla Conroy told me. She and her family made the five-hour drive from Bipp County, Ala., southeast of Tuscaloosa. “Every day he’s practicing, hitting the ball . . . You do what you gotta do for your kids.”
But surely high gas prices, rising food costs ($28 for two salads, chips, and a kid’s meal at Subway), and not-so-inexpensive hotel rooms, gave parents a reason to balk.
“Not at all. Not at all,” Katelyn Schroeder told me after driving eight hours from Greenbriar, Tennessee.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for (son) Maddox, and for all of us as a family.”
Arkansas fans called the Hogs. “Roll Tide” echoed across the concourse. Folks from Joaquin, Texas, wore blue T-shirts covered with a BIG state logo because, well, Texas, you know.
As for the team I went to see, it was heartbreak hotel. Undefeated and advancing to the championship round, they needed to win just one of two games to bring home the banner.
They lost both.
Tears flowed, and not just from the kids’ eyes. Adults felt the pain — the pain of watching the little one they love play his heart out on a turf field, in heat that had no mercy.
Maybe even this old, childless man leaked a little water out of the corner of one eye.
So now I understand.
Does anyone know when next year’s schedule comes out?
Contact Tony at SBJTonyT@gmail.com