During a rainy evening in March, the inklings that I had made a grave miscalculation began to creep up on me. I sat that night on a rusty metal folding chair in a large, echoing room in a musty park district field house and listened as the names of the children who would constitute my Pee Wee baseball team were read off to me. I had only begun to realize how completely managing said baseball team would consume my life.
But I remained positive and shortly after our team’s first practice, I began to have the dreams.
We had won the league championship and the tiny arms of my players, strengthened by the adrenaline of their victory, hoisted me into the air as the crowd cheered wildly. The parents who had been skeptical at first of my abilities as a manager rushed to be the first to pat me on the back and I rode off into the sunset on the motorcycle they had all chipped in to buy me in appreciation for my hard work and dedication throughout the season.
The night following our first game, the nightmares took over.
I scrambled to send enough players out to the field. In one ear, the umpire shouted, “Play ball! Play ball! Play ball already!” and in the other, a litany of children (far more than I remembered being assigned to me on that rainy night in March) all asked repeatedly if they could play first base or pitch. The children that I did somehow convince to hustle out and field other positions inevitably rushed back to the dugout, bleeding and bruised. Some had taken a line drive off the face because I neglected to properly assess their ability to catch (or at least defend themselves with their mitt) before assigning their spots that inning. Others crawled to the bench on their hands and knees in pain, innocent victims of my forgetting to make sure they were wearing a cup. In the bottom half of the inning, little boys with shattered helmets and concussions wobbled into the arms of their sobbing mothers who stared daggers at me for inflicting such pain upon their sons. As I looked around at the battlefield of fallen players, their heads wrapped in bloody bandages and attempting to bat with one of their crutches, one or two of them still pulling on my pant leg and asking, “Can I pitch next inning,” I realized that I had to try and pull this off for five more innings.
That’s when I wake up in a cold sweat. Sometimes I scream, other times I am just hyperventilating. Either way, it takes a few minutes to bring myself around to seeing that I am safe in my bed. Eventually, I talk myself down and my breathing slows. Inevitably, I come to accept that, while we are currently 0-2, I am constantly fielding the nagging fielding questions from my players, a few kids have suffered bumps and bruises and while I have had to chastise a player (one of my own sons of all things) for exclaiming, “We suck,” none of it is quite as bad as what I have imagined during my sleep. But it still weighs on me.
My efforts to assuage my managerial worries had proven fruitless. No matter how much time I spend poring over the roster and assembling what I think to be a workable batting order, somebody shows up either late or not at all and throws a wrench into the works. No matter how fair I thought I was being at doling out the playing time, some kid always seems to be left on the bench a little too long. I have worked and reworked patterns on a sheet of paper like a giant maniacal Sudoku puzzle, convinced that there is some finite, workable formula that I might concoct in order to relieve me of the pressure of having to make any game time decisions, but it has been to no avail.
Just last night, on the eve of our third game of the season, I racked my brain and caused my fingers to cramp around my pencil such that I needed to pry it from my own hand. I drove myself to the verge of giving up when I realized that there, at the brink of insanity, lie the answer: Give up.
Not on the season or on the kids of course, but on the details. I must give up on caring how perfectly ordered the entire process is because, if there is one lesson that parenthood should have instilled in me by now, it’s that children and chaos go hand in hand (I actually think that’s why chaos begins with a ch-) and few things seem to cut down on stress and outside criticism like not giving a crap.