For a long time I've preferred kid baseball to watching the pros. Starting from the time they're just learning to play, all the way up to when they get to play on a major league-sized field, it's always been more enjoyable watching these young people learn to play and improve. This year the changes have been dramatic. The finer points of the game stand out. Last night, I finally figured out why I prefer watching these young players so much: it's a far more precious thing.
When they're seven and eight years old, their young baseball lives seem like they'll last forever. But they don't. Each year, more and more of them drop out. Some of them stay with it, but by the time they reach high school, most of the players are done with the competitive track of the game.
Last night our guys played their final league game of the season. For a lot of them, it will likely be the last competitive baseball game of their lives. This fall, as they enter high school, some will try to make their high school teams. Some will make them, but many won't. Of the ones who do, plenty will spend most of the season riding the bench. Only the top players will see much playing time.
A few years from now, when these young people enter the working world, some will probably play adult softball. St. Louis is among the top recreational softball towns in the country. But you usually don't see many parents cheering their kids at beer-league games. We're fading out of the picture.
So as last night's game wound down, it was a sentimental time for some of us. We enjoyed a few beers at the grand stand, looking out over the manicured diamond, watching as many of these young ballplayers - our sons - stood in the batter's box, taking the last competitive at-bats they'd ever see.
The outcome of the game was never in much doubt, and ended a rather uninspiring 8-2 loss. As the game ended, there was a beautiful sunset in St. Louis. I wonder if any of the boys realized that, for most of them, faroff dreams of playing professional baseball, if they ever had them, were now fading as fast as the setting sun over that outfield fence? Hopefully the thought never entered their minds.
Afterwards, a group of us went over to Gino's restaurant on Hampton. The group "Presentations" performs there on Thursday nights, and Rich Guzman, drummer for the band, invited some of the boys to sit in. They've got a rock band now, and they're doing pretty good. For the young band, this would be their first time playing a public performance. They played three songs, and received a good reponse from the crowd. The boys still need to come up with a name for the band.
We struggled for a long time trying to think of a name for the ballclub. Kerri was the one to think of "South Sox", since the team brought together players from neighborhoods all across South St. Louis. That was the perfect name. For the band, it's their turn. They'll have to come up with a name of their own.