The urchins were startled. “Hey, let’s go outside and play some baseball,” I said.
Outside? Are you kidding me? Inside, the two 8-year-old boys have an Xbox, iPads and personal computers at the ready. Outside?
So I dragged them down to the ball field.
“I need a helmet,” one wailed. “Where’re the helmets?”
“And what about a heart-guard?” the other one said. “Mom says I have to get a heart-guard before I can play.”
“We’re just going to practice,” I replied. “No danger. Let’s just throw the ball around and hit a few.”
The boys looked confused.
“But we need helmets!”
The year was 1957, and two Central Nassau little league teams were on the field. There were no helmets. No heart-guards. Just a dusty field with dirty bases and a coach who sat on a splintered bench drinking beer.
I was 7 years old. Billy Weir was on the mound. I was at the plate. He threw; I swung the bat. The ball rocketed into left field. My first hit ever. I’ll never forget it.
“OK, I’ll hit you guys some grounders, and you throw the ball home. Got it?”
The boys looked even more confused.
“What happens if the ball hits me?” the smarter one asked.
“Pain,” I said. “But that’s why you have a glove. You catch the ball in the glove, and that protects you.”
I hit a slow grounder to the slower boy. He stood like a statue as the ball rolled through his legs.
“What was that?” I asked.
“It was too low,” he replied. “It has to be higher.”
“You’re supposed to bend down and catch the ball, ” I said gently.
“That’s how you get guys out. You catch the ball and throw it to first.”
The kid looked bored. The kid was bored. There were no electronic zombies to kill. There were no gadgets in sight.
“OK, let’s do some hitting,” I said, attempting to refocus the boys.
“I only use aluminum bats,” one of them said. “Mom says wood bats are too dangerous.”
Luckily, I had the aluminum model.
“It’s too heavy,” the kid wailed.
“Choke up, move your hands up the handle of the bat.”
I threw the urchins some soft tosses, and they began to hit the ball. On contact, the bat made a loud noise, which they liked. Reminded them of the noises that feed their gaming addiction.
“OK, now we’re going to run the bases.”
“Why?” they said in unison.
“Because after you hit the ball, you run from base to base. That’s how you score runs.”
“My mom doesn’t want me to get dirty.”
“How about I bury you under the pitcher’s mound?”
The kids ran to first. But they began to tire after reaching second. They both stopped and just stood there looking at me.
I looked back.
“How long are we going to do this?” the smarter one said. “I need a helmet if we’re gonna keep playing.”