The editor’s opinion from Marketplace, Northeast Wisconsin’s business magazine. (Obligatory disclaimer: Most hyperlinks go to outside sites, and we’re not responsible for their content. And like fresh watermelon, peaches, pineapple, grapefruit, tomatoes and sweet corn, hyperlinks can go bad after a while.)

June 20, 2008

Take me out to the ballgames

Any new parent learns quickly that your life doesn’t belong to you once you reach the delivery room. (Hospital delivery rooms probably should have a sign over the entrance: “Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here.”)

One proof of that comes when your children reach the age to have activities of their own. Their schedule becomes your schedule, in part because none of our kids are old enough to drive, and in part because, after all, one parental obligation is attending your children’s events and getting otherwise involved.

Here was the week of June 9 at the Prestegards, incorporating only the periods when I was at home:
  • Monday: Soccer for Dylan (age 5) and Michael (age 8) starting at 5:30.
  • Tuesday: Shockingly, nothing was scheduled, other than dinner, laundry and getting kids to bed.
  • Wednesday: Following his last (half) day of school, baseball for Michael at 6 p.m. (With my wife working evenings, I had to get all three kids to his game, a process similar to herding cats, pushing pasta forward, or trying to figure out Barack Obama’s position on trade.)
  • Thursday: There was supposed to be baseball practice for Michael, but that got flooded out. So instead, we cleaned up the water in our basement, not exactly an athletic activity, though it is hard work.
  • Friday: Baseball for Michael at 6 p.m.
  • Saturday: Baseball practice for Michael at 8 a.m., followed by four baseball games in Beaver Dam starting at 11:30 a.m.
  • Sunday: Go to church, mow the grass, cookout with friends and their two daughters.
As hectic as that schedule appears, it is likely to get worse in future years. Dylan’s only sport this summer is soccer; he becomes eligible for T-ball next year if he wants to play. At 2, Shaena isn’t eligible for any sport other than watching her brothers and distracting her parents from watching her brothers. Summer school, including a session on football, starts in Ripon next week, Michael had a basketball camp this week and will have tennis lessons starting next week, the boys will be attending church camp, Michael has Cub Scout camp in July, our church has visitors from Costa Rica coming in July, there will be visits to grandparents … you get the picture. (For all I know, your schedule may be more hectic than this.) Weeks like the previously listed week might be why my wife and I enjoy watching “Hawaii Five-O” at 9 p.m. — not for the great stories or acting, but because it is the first opportunity to sit down with the kids in bed.

Having never lived in other parts of the U.S., I don’t know if areas of longer good weather try to compress this much into this relatively short window of time, less than three months between the end of school and the beginning of the next school year. (Regarding global climate change, if it improves Wisconsin’s weather, I’m all for it.) The aforementioned schedules don’t include any of those “enrichment” activities parents you read about in the Wall Street Journal or New York Times push on their kids — tutoring, language courses, long-term sleepaway camps, etc. — with the goal of getting into one of the élite colleges. (Our children are responsible for their own lives once they leave home.) Kids need to have time for things like riding bikes, playing in the park, squirting each other with water, and the long-term project of driving their parents insane.

Baseball is the star attraction this summer. In addition to the youth league team Michael’s on, another team of eight-year-old players has been formed in Ripon with the goal of, ultimately, improving the skills of the Ripon players who will be taking the field starting in the spring of 2016. This team played four games in Beaver Dam last Saturday, leaving the four Prestegards (Dylan was with his grandparents), plus all the other Ripon players and their parents, grandparents and other fans covered with a mix of suntan lotion, bug spray, dust, sand and sweat, semi-dehydrated by the sun and wind.

(For those of you unfamiliar with high school sports, this concept originated in Wisconsin with the state’s winningest basketball coach, Jerry Petitgoue of Cuba City. When Petitgoue was named coach at Cuba City in 1972, he determined that, for his players to have the skills he wanted them to have by the time they played for him, he and others needed to teach his future varsity players those skills as early as possible — as in first grade. By the time his players were freshmen at CCHS, those who were part of the entire program learned together how to play, with more skills and techniques added each year. Given that Petitgoue has won more than 700 games and three state championships in 37 years at Cuba City, I’d say he has a pretty good system. Other coaches think so, because his “feeder system” is now emulated in practically every team sport across Wisconsin and beyond.)

The upshot of this is that Michael will play at least 15 baseball games this summer (he has to miss one for church camp), which is five fewer than high school players are allowed to play. The great thing is that this is entirely his idea — my policy is to never ask him if he wants to practice; he does it or asks me to play catch himself. I’ve seen enough “Little League parents” over the years to know that that is not the way to conduct yourself as a parent. The only thing I insist on is that when he does baseball things, he do them the right way — particularly with his debut as a pitcher this summer.

(I’m living proof that athletic talent skips generations. My father was a member of his high school’s state champion half-mile relay team. My brother was a varsity swimmer in high school, and managed to juggle summer swimming and baseball. Other than two years sitting on the bench of my high school’s boys volleyball team and about four weeks sitting on the bench of a freshman basketball team, my talents were in … the band. Given this, you’d think that my body parts would had less hard mileage than your typical high school athlete, but then again I had five years in the University of Wisconsin Marching Band, which is definitely hard mileage. Also, I’m now 43, and there are few 43-year-old professional athletes.)

Of course, when the child gets involved, the parent has to get involved too, beyond just showing up. My generation grew up with fathers as coaches and mothers as chauffeurs, since women’s athletics had not formally arrived on the scene. (The mother of one of Michael’s teammates recently commented about how her son resisted her batting advice, which seems shortsighted other than the usual kids-ignoring-their-parents dynamic.) This summer, notwithstanding my absence of athletic talent, I’ve assisted with both of Michael’s teams. As a result, every joint on my right arm now makes noise, and I was limping around for a while after doing something to my left hamstring.

Then again, as Vince Lombardi said, you’ve got to be able to play with the little hurts.

Up next: Cardinals “at” Pirates at Murray Park in Ripon Friday at 6:15 p.m.


Anonymous said...

Nice article, Steve.Of course I'm biased.Mom

Aaron Kramer said...

When the kids needs an agent, you know how to reach me - The Mayor

Anonymous said...

Are you letting me know what I'm in for in just a few short years? Ruth