This has been the summer that Joshua has slowly but surely become attuned to the doings of the New York Mets.
It started with the simple things: wanting to see Mr. Met, or watch the apple come up after a home run. (Explaining the apple's absence during a road game was a challenge.) From there we got into the rules, which aren't so easy to break down into chunks for someone who's just learning and is easily distracted. Three strikes and you're out, three outs and the other team gets to hit, the team with more runs is winning, the teams take turns hitting nine times, if they have the same number of runs they take a turn each again and see if someone has more runs. That's a lot to keep track of right there. Now throw in all the complications: For example, that foul balls are strikes but not if there's two strikes, unless the batter is bunting. (What's bunting?)
A single pitch can start dominos of questions falling, and sometimes you discover you've plunged into the depths of the rulebook without taking care of the basics. (What's a foul ball?) It's hard to explain why a ball that took one bounce before going into the enemy shortstop's glove is bad when a moment before a ball that took one bounce before going into the enemy left fielder's glove was good. And let's not get into force plays vs. tag plays. (Or the fact that last night I realized to my horror that I'd spent three baseball-mad decades missing a crucial part of what makes runs earned or unearned.)
Confronted with all this, Joshua's most-common question remains, “Was that good?” But he's getting it: He knows which number on the TV screen is balls and which is strikes, understands three outs and keeps track of them, gets that the lit-up bases correspond to actual runners, is beginning to understand singles and doubles and triples, and even has a rudimentary grasp of the strike zone. (Which makes him more advanced than Rey Ordonez ever was.) Not bad for someone who won't be four until after the season.
And he's learning his Mets. He knows Jose Reyes (probably his favorite player) and David Wright and will tell you proudly that Jose is No. 7 and David is No. 5. He neat as you please dropped Paul Lo Duca's name into casual Met conversation the other day. He thinks it's funny that there are two Carloses and two Joses. He has heard the hushed talk of this legendary man known only as Pedro. (Starting pitchers are the hardest, since they disappear from view for days at a time.) For the other Mets, he uses the Choo Choo method: “Get a hit, Number 23!”
He's even a more-reasonable fan than I am: When word came that Michael Tucker had become a Met, I made no secret of my unhappiness and freely expressed my loathing for our newest player. (I refrained from using the generally accepted variant of his name, however. Now that he's on our roster, Tucker gets the probationary use of his actual name. Besides, I'm not a completely horrible parent.) Anyway, confronted with a parent excoriating Michael Tucker, Joshua looked stern and had this to say: “Daddy, is he a Met? I'm sorry, Daddy, but you have to be happy about him.”
Blasted rational child.
Having two baseball-mad parents has certainly helped him find his way. Joshua knows game time comes around the same he's called to the table for dinner. (And he'll be able to sit where he can see the game.) He knows we'll turn the volume up at bathtime, angle the TV so we can see it from beside the tub and tell him what's happening. He expects we'll turn on the radio in his room so we can keep track of things during the bedtime ritual of books and juice. And being a cunning creature, he's figuring out that if he takes an avid-enough interest in the proceedings, he can con his father into delaying bedtime to explain some arcane rule or wait out a half-inning. When he's particularly lucky, something will happen that warrants a quick dash next door to Mommy and Daddy's bedroom to see the instant replay. The last such event was Piazza's second home run, and Joshua quickly saw a new angle to exploit. But he has a little to learn about what's TV-worthy: A few minutes after Piazza's dinger, he tried to invoke TV privileges for a replay of a long foul ball by Jose Reyes. Nice try, kid.
But the moment Emily and I knew there was no turning back? It was Thursday, around dinner time. The string of lights on the brick wall in the yard had lit up, meaning the game should be starting. (The lights are on a timer set for 7:10. Like you're surprised.) But for some reason, his parents weren't turning on the TV.
“I want to watch the baseball,” Joshua said matter-of-factly, with admirable patience. He knows parents are stupid creatures and sometimes need a little help.
“There's no game tonight, kiddo,” I said.
“They played during the day,” Emily added.
“And they won!” I chipped in.
“But I want to watch the baseball,” Joshua tried again, looking less patient.
“There isn't any baseball tonight,” I said — and my son promptly dissolved into tears.
I explained that the Mets had to play in Washington the next night, so they played during the day. They needed to get on an airplane and get to the new city and get some sleep. More tears. I looked hopefully for an encore of the day's game on SNY. No such luck. Emily assured Joshua there'd be another game tomorrow. Nothing doing — the kid had dissolved into a river of misery. Tomorrow night was not going to cut it — he wanted the Mets, not excuses.
Emily and I couldn't really look at each other, because you don't want to ever actually explain to your child that on some level you're happy he's crying. We soothed him as best we could, but we couldn't have been prouder. The kid's got the family bug. No turning back now — he's one of us.
Still, this presents a problem: If he was this sad about a day game, how on earth do I explain the offseason?