Batting Practice at the Secret Park

5 Oct

My knee hurt, and I didn’t want to go.

But Jacob was determined to get in some batting practice, so we walked to the park where I would dutifully pitch and he would hit.

My knee was throbbing, but I knew this was important to him. He had requested my participation the day before, but the rain had kept us inside. I probably should have found more comfortable shoes for this outing but I was too lazy to trek upstairs, and I muttered to myself that I would have to bear this discomfort so number-one-son could enjoy batting practice.

“Number one son”.

So much can be wrapped up in this notion—you have a son in whom you place so many dreams and hopes.

We play at the “Secret Park”.

It’s not really secret, but it’s a park that is in an out-of-the-way area that doesn’t get much use, so we christened it such. My favorite part of batting practice at the Secret Park is we play in the middle of a grove of oak trees. I position myself so two of the larger trees are a few yards behind me, acting as center and right fielders, knocking down a few of Jacob’s fly balls in mid-air and reducing my retrieval time. I call these grand oaks the “Say Hey” and “Roberto” trees, after my idols Willie Mays and Roberto Clemente. Being October in Nebraska, Say Hey and Roberto have fewer leaves, so balls often steal through their branches. They will improve their fielding percentage as spring returns.

Darn, “Say Hey” missed another one. “Nice hit,” I say, as I turn and trot after it. My knee is really going to be sore by the end of this.

At the Secret Park, Jacob is completely in his element. He is at peace.

Time stops for him.

All that counts is that he has a bat in his hand and his father is pitching. He loves to hit a baseball, and is actually quite adept at the task. I pitch it high, I pitch it low, or I take a little speed off. No matter, he makes contact.

Other intricacies of baseball—when to hit and run, the suicide squeeze, the double switch, a balk–are not things he comprehends. Jacob will never share my love of baseball strategy. He won’t pore over the box scores or the statistics of his favorite players the way my dad and I did. But tonight, the reasons why father and son love baseball don’t matter.

It is a picturesque night. It’s cool, and the flush of my face feels good. Not a whiff of wind. I wiggle my knee. No pain.

Jacob calls for another pitch.

A mom and dad stroll by with two toddlers in tow, stopping to watch Jacob’s hitting exhibition. They don’t know he has this severe disability called autism. They just see a kid having fun with his old man– dad pitching and son hitting. I wonder what kinds of dreams they have for their child, what hopes they harbor. I wonder what they would be thinking about the future of their child if they knew about their baby what I know about our son. They pass. Jacob turns toward me and puts his bat at the ready.

I’ll try to remember everything about this night, the grass still green before the coming winter, the pale blue sky, the joy in Jacob’s eyes. There are going to be times, probably very soon, that will be difficult, when life with our son will be much harder, when his disability will overwhelm him and our family, when this world of ours will not be welcoming or gracious to folks like our Jacob.

But tonight, we’re taking batting practice at the Secret Park, and it is enough.

(Photo courtesy of Stock.xchang)

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