For all I know my son may grow up to be president, a beloved philanthropist, or a Hollywood star. But as I told Greg a couple of weeks ago, in a tone of voice a bit less guilty than it probably should have been, I don't think I could be prouder of him than I've been when he knows 2-2 is a neutral count, or that that ball up the gap was a two-run double, or other foundation blocks of baseball knowledge. Being a dad is pretty great most all the time, but it's particularly fun when I get to pass along some lessons about the game I love.
And it's even better when baseball cooperates.
Today was one of those typical weekend days when baseball was the counterpart to a flurry of household activities — by the middle innings of Game 1, we had three TVs on and two radios playing. (Remember the ad a couple of years back with that guy watching soccer on TVs everywhere in the house? Obviously the ad was pointing out how smart and prepared that guy was. Right?) Joshua had cheered on Santana faithfully, and Emily had pointed out that Johan (typically pronounced “Yo-ho” by Joshua) didn't have his best stuff, but sometimes you learned more about a pitcher then than you did when all his pitches were working — witness Johan today vs., say, Oliver Perez recently. (In our house, fathers have no monopoly on baseball lessons.)
In the bottom of the 6th, Joshua thought the game pretty well in hand with the Mets up 6-3, runners on second and third and one out with Jose Reyes at the plate. I pointed out this was the time that good teams really bear down — that a three-run lead in the 6th can get pecked away to a one-run lead in the 8th before you know it, leaving you a bad relief outing away from disaster. Joshua was a bit puzzled when Mom and Dad weren't thrilled to see Reyes draw a walk. Luis Castillo, we explained, doesn't have enough power to be a reliable source of sacrifice flies (in fact, in 1,431 big-league games he has a ludicrous 17 of them), meaning if he didn't get the job done, the Mets could easily be turned aside on a double play or needing a hit to get that extra run. Good teams convert here, was the lesson. They tack on runs instead of giving their opponents a chance to get back into the game.
Joshua knows a 2-1 pitch is a hitter's count — and we all watched Castillo get a meatball on 2-1 and foul it back, causing consternation in the Bernstein-Fry household. The kid found that a bit unfair. That was the best pitch he was likely to see, we explained — and sure enough, Mike Lincoln fanned him on a called third strike. Which left it to David Wright, searching for a two-out hit. Lincoln went to 3-0 on Wright, and I counseled Joshua (by now paying pretty good attention for a five-year-old) that Wright should be selective, that he had three good pitches to work with and no need to be overanxious. Lincoln's next pitch was a strike, but one on the inside edge of the plate, which David would have rolled out to the shortstop if he'd offered at. Nicely done. Lincoln's next pitch was a ball, forcing in a run. Good at-bat for Wright.
But here came the real lesson: Beltran up to the plate. Bases loaded, two out. Now, I told Joshua, Beltran should look for a strike on that first pitch, and hit it hard if it proved to his liking. I know most all of us know this, but remember the kid is five — it's a bit puzzling how one hitter should be selective but the next hitter should be aggressive. Lincoln went to 2-1 on Castillo and walked in a run against Wright, I explained. He's going to want to get ahead of Beltran really badly — so badly that he may well be too concerned with throwing a strike, and not concerned enough with making a good pitch.
Well, you know the rest. Beltran nailed Lincoln's first pitch for a bases-clearing triple. 10-3 Mets, and for a moment Joshua was persuaded that his father wasn't, in fact, a complete idiot.