Health And Family

Raising a winner

MIDLIFERY - Twink Macaraeg -

Shock at the carnage unfolding before me sent my mind hurtling to that scene from the ’80s film, Poltergeist, where the eldest daughter returns from a sleepover to find her family, home, and hundreds of ghostly figures being whipped up into a gigantic smoothie. I shriek, “WHAATIIISHAAAPPENIIING?!!!” Just as she did, I successfully embodied both meanings of the word hysterical  berserk and ridiculous  at the same time. My hubby manages to put a lid on matters by lovingly enveloping my head in tarpaulin.    

I’d been watching my son Juancho play baseball. This is his fourth year with ILLAM (International Little League Association of Manila). He’d been named an All-Star every year previously, meaning: He was picked to represent his team in the season-ender exhibition match, along with the other purportedly best players from the other teams. Mind you, there’s no clear basis for selection. They didn’t even keep score; much less keep tabs on players’ percentages. After 90 minutes, the games simply ended and the opponents congratulated each other in the way an Oscar awardee says his fellow nominees deserve the statue more. But I bought into the idea of Little League as it’s played today, even though it was nothing like what I personally knew from watching Bad News Bears a couple of times.

Remember that movie? Walter Matthau, a one-time minor league player-turned-swimming pool cleaner, is lassoed into teaching a band of misfits to play ball. I would say the proverbial band of misfits, but Bad News Bears was the forerunner of the feel-good genre that guaranteed a modicum of box office success. It featured a still precocious Tatum O’Neal as the daughter of an ex girlfriend, that Matthau recruits because of her pitching prowess. The diabolical duo then hatch a plan to recruit juvenile delinquent Jackie Earle Haley  decades before his Academy-nominated role as a paroled sex offender in Little Children  to shore up the rest of the positions  infield, midfield, and outfield. The ragtag bunch goes on to claw, scrap, and bite its way from the bottom of the ladder to the finals, scoring precious life lessons about teamwork and the dignity of labor along the way.

My point is, even a schlock flick like Bad News Bears didn’t gloss over the actual competitiveness involved in these games. Something strangely absent in this PC version of Little League Juancho is part of. First, in T-ball, the kids batted a ball set atop a stationary post. Then, in Coach Pitch, a tan lady would gently loft the ball in the batter’s direction. But I believed that this was the serious business because I was impressed by the kids’ bespoke uniforms and because I got caught up in the passion of some of my co-parents  burly Caucasian men cursing and protesting every call. Juancho, safe at second base, is told by someone that he didn’t make it; Juancho walks away and is called out. His teammate’s dad, someone I vaguely recognize from ADB, goes ballistic (pun intended). He harangues every official on the field for allowing the use of dirty tricks; shutting up only when Juancho asks him to please tie his shoe. Looking back, I should have asked why these men got so worked up. After all, you, literally, could not lose.

With such a background, does Juancho enter Player Pitch; where someone of his age group actually throws the ball with the intent for the batter not to hit it. And this time, runs would actually be tallied. My husband and I go to watch when it’s our turn to provide refreshments. We bring a cooler-full of Gatorade and pizzas without a shred of vegetable. Another Mom brings home-baked cookies and juice drinks. This, in addition to the box of sugar-glazed fried dough that the team’s sponsor regularly provides 

We are up against a team from Canlubang. Haciendero country. Where kids don’t play piko, patintero, or even basketball. Legend has it that, for generations, at the end of the harvest, sugar cane fields are cleared to create baseball diamonds, something which no modern-day developer would remotely countenance today. Rumor has it that the infamous 1992 Philippine Team that made it to the US World Little League Championships, despite dubious age and residency eligibility, was buttressed by players from Canlubang.

But we weren’t thinking about that. We just wanted to make sure that Juancho and his friends had the pizza of their choice and we weren’t going to be viewed as killjoy parents. We were reasonably confident that our three-time All-Star would make his small but valuable contribution to the cause.

Then, the bloodbath. 

The runt pitcher from Canlubang, his one size-fits-all tee hanging desolately on him, strikes out three-batters in easy succession. Canlubang then assumes receivership. Between our pitcher’s throws into the dirt and those that sail over the catcher’s head, the Canlubang boys manage to eke out 17 runs, stealing base after base with impunity. Our boys don’t seem to know what to make of it. “Isn’t stealing bad, Mommy?” one asks.  

Canlubang sends in its relief pitcher, the first-stringer obviously not to be wasted further on a team whose score is an unfortunately apt reflection of its name, Mister Donut. The result is the same, though. Despite spirited exhortations from our camp of parents and yayas (note: Canlubang had no such rooters) our team doesn’t get beyond third base. Juancho’s teammate, Markie, foolishly tries to steal home. It takes but a glance from Canlubang’s catcher  conveying that one more step and your tisoy a#$%* is going to be picked off, dude  for Markie to retreat, chastened, never to venture off base again.   

It’s Canlubang’s turn at bat and Mister Donut turns on the heat  melting into a puddle of errors that Canlubang gleefully stomps on. But that isn’t what sends me into spontaneous combustion. It’s the officials going into a quick huddle and the umpire blowing his whistle, signalling Game Over. What?! But it’s just the Third Inning?! What about due process?! Shouldn’t the sons of Mister Donut get a chance to recover?! That’s when I unleash my existential angst to the heavens. 

Jojo takes me aside and talks to me like I am a seven-year-old whose elderly dog has had to be put down. “It’s the mercy rule, Twink. Masyado nang tambak.” I insist, “But how can they dash the hopes of these young boys?”

Jojo answers, “Parang ganito, if Piolo Pascual himself joined Mister Donut, pitched a no-hitter and hit three homeruns with the bases loaded, no one pa rin will believe that he doesn’t play for the other team.”

The explanation helps the truth sink in more quickly. I join the Mister Donut parents gathered for a post mort as the kids head for the food kiosk. Jojo asks, “You think we baby them too much kaya?”

“No, dear,” her husband Louie says. “Your cheering  Go Pangga! and Good Job Sweetheart!  really whips them into line. Narinig mo ba yung sinisigaw ng kabilang coach? ‘Pagbutihin mo yan, kung hindi, walang maghahapunan mamaya!’” 

I recount what I’d just overheard from Lucas’s yaya, “Nakita nyo ba yung snack nila? Atin parang may bertday party. Sa kanila, kamoteng kahoy!”

Becky suggests a partial media blackout during the baseball season so the boys can focus on practice. “How about for five days a week, we ban TV, DS, Xbox, and WII?”

Ha? E Papano naman ako?!” her husband wails, horrified.

The kids rejoin us. They are happily chattering about Gogos and their demeanor shows no sign of dejection or shame about the rout. Either they didn’t mind that they’d been clobbered or they just didn’t have a clue. “Well, at least they had fun,” a parent sighs. And we disperse, somewhat comforted by the cliché.   

During the drive, Juancho sleeps with his head on my lap, having come crashing down from his sugar high. My hubby wonders aloud, “Are we raising a bunch of losers?”  

“I don’t mind that they lost,” I say, by way of a non-responsive response. “But I want them to want to win.”

 He mulls over the implications of my statement (or maybe he was thinking about that dental appointment he missed). In silence, we make our way home, while I mentally compose my mantra to be recited daily for the next 10 years:

I will teach my child how to set a goal.

I will show my child what it takes to achieve such a goal.             

 And by the time he takes the UPCAT, he will know the perils of aspiring for a goal against others hungrier for it than him.

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