Somebody Else’s Boys

This spring feels like one of those times of change for the Parent Imperfect, but one thing remains very consistent…his interest in that “kid’s game” involving balls, bats, gloves and long periods of being outside in all sorts of weather. I’ve been completely unsuccessful in passing this interest on to either Vince or Connie, but for some reason, I’ve kept involved in youth baseball, despite my family’s distance from it. The fact that my knees no longer allow me to play probably explains the affliction.

The Regan Youth League (RYL) gets several hundred boys and girls active in the spring and keeps a number of them going through the fall. A couple of adults derive some income from the league, and a larger group of mostly young people get paid to umpire, but the league moves on the backs of a large group of volunteers, mostly parents of the players. These people organize all that is necessary to make it possible for groups of about 25 children to come together regularly to play a game that some of them will continue to love for their entire lives.

Yesterday was Opening Day, when players, coaches and parents tie up Saturday morning traffic by parading down Centre St. in Jamaica Plain, and then gather at Daisy Field along the Jamiacaway for a little ceremony. Mayor Menino made it to the field with a big brace on his still-recovering leg to offer a few words of encouragement that few could repeat today. The ceremony ends with everyone making a community pledge in Spanish and English committing all coaches and players to “value the well-being of the children over the score of any game.” I’m not sure that we all live up to that pledge throughout the season, but the league is definitely less competitive than some other youth leagues in the Boston area.

This is one place where the “two Jamaica Plains” come together, in unusual harmony, with a broader community of people who value the kind of experience that the RYL offers Boston’s kids. It is neighborhood life in Boston as it is supposed to be.

As if to confirm that spring had, indeed, arrived, El rey del pastelito showed up with his coolers full of Dominican meat and cheese pies for sale. Even el rey is parent of a talented player who moved into the Pony division this year. In a half hour, famished kids and parents had emptied his coolers of their contents and sent him home a happy man.

Along with my friend, Eric, and parents of some of the players, I coach a team in the Senior Division, where boys, aged 11 and 12, play on eight teams. Our team of 11 (too few for my taste) includes boys from Jamaica Plain, Dorchester, Roslindale, Roxbury and Brookline. The team forms a group unlike the groups in which most of these boys live their lives in and around Boston. This league happens in Jamaica Plain, but it is not a Jamaica Plain league.

As non-parents coaching young boys, Eric and I have engendered some reasonable curiosity concerning our motives. By now, though, the league is used to us, and the few other people who coach without having children in the league. No chances are taken , however, as all coaches in the RYL fill out a CORI form each year before the season begins. A community of eyes monitor how adults interact with children throughout the season.

After the ceremony, the league gets down to the business of ball games. This year, our team played the very first game of the year. The gray clouds that had hung over the ceremony burned away as soon as the microphones went away, and, by game time, Daisy Field was bathed in brilliant sunshine. Parents and friends of both teams filled the bleachers and unfolded lawn chairs to cheer on the players. For the first game of the season, both teams played very well and with lots of enthusiasm. The game was not decided until our opponents’ left fielder made a circus catch of a hard-hit ball to send both teams home with a 4-4 tie. A tie? Baseball is a game that doesn’t have ties, but the Regan League is different even here. It seemed a fitting end to the opening game of a new season.

After leaving for the parade at 8AM, I crawled back into the house, exhausted, at about 3. Liz had just dropped Vince off at a friend’s house where he would, allegedly, complete a big Latin project. The fact that the Bruins were on TV at precisely that time had no effect on what the Latin scholars would be doing in J’s basement. Liz had spent much of her day trying to get him focused on the work he had not done during our week on vacation in Virginia. I’m sure it took some effort for her to be relatively cheery and interested in how my game had gone when I entered the house. This was only the first of many times over the next ten weeks when my fascination with seeing a group of somebody else’s boys come together as a baseball team means that Liz must shoulder more responsibility for our own team.

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