Yesterday my friend Yakut emailed me the article “Federer as Religious Experience” by David Foster Wallace, which appeared in the New York Times’ Play Magazine on August 20, 2006 (available here). Wallace penned an immaculate piece on Roger Federer, who also happens to be my favorite tennis player these days. As per his custom, Wallace resorts to 17 footnotes, provides detailed accounts of what he terms “Federer Moments” from the Nadal v. Federer Wimbledon Final of 2006, comments – in a tongue-in-cheek fashion, of course – on the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum and the tournament’s rules. It is a great ode to Federer, and contains a healthy rebuke of Nadal – who happens to be my least favorite pro these days. If you’re a tennis – and DFW – fan, enjoyed his essays in Consider the Lobster, and do not have the guts to restart Infinite Jest just yet, but would like to continue reading some brilliant prose, you should definitely check it out.
New York's NPR affiliate, WNYC, has posted downloadable audio of last weekend's 75th Birthday celebration for Philip Roth. Featured speakers include Jonathan Lethem, Charles D'Ambrosio, and Hermione Lee. Alvin Pepler, unfortunately, had a prior engagement...
1. A Killer Business Model So tonight it’ll be Oregon vs. Ohio State for the college football championship. I’m going to pass. A big part of the reason is that I just watched Amir Bar-Lev’s sickening and fascinating new documentary, Happy Valley. Early in the movie we meet a Pennsylvania State University student named Tyler Estright who’s being interviewed in his dorm room, dressed in a Penn State t-shirt and a Penn State cap turned backward. The wall behind him is adorned with pictures of Joe Paterno, the university’s legendary football coach who, shortly before this interview, was fired amid revelations that one of his long-time assistants, Jerry Sandusky, was a serial sexual abuser of young boys. “How could they do this to Joe?” Estright cries, echoing a common refrain in State College, Pa. -- known as Happy Valley -- that Paterno was unfairly punished for another man’s sins. “Look,” Estright continues, “I feel bad for the victims, okay? I have to say that so people don’t think I’m an idiot. But the thing that made me maddest was that the NCAA took away Joe’s wins.” Though Sandusky was convicted on 45 counts of sexual assault and sentenced to life in prison, Estright derides an on-campus candlelight vigil for the victims as “fake.” Later, watching television as Penn State and Nebraska players kneel together on the field for a prayer before the kickoff of the first game in the post-Paterno era, Estright barks, “Get up off your knees and let’s play football! That’s what we do here!” Eventually, Estright’s disgust with the unfairness of Paterno’s treatment and the ensuing National Collegiate Athletic Association sanctions shades into fury when the Penn State players start wearing their names above the numerals on the backs of their jerseys. This seemingly minor change is, for Estright, an unpardonable contravention of everything Penn State football supposedly stood for under Paterno: selfless devotion to the notion that the game of football, if played correctly, builds better people and a better world. Also buying into this questionable notion is an artist named Michael Polito, who painted a brazenly religious mural of Penn State football worthies on the wall of a downtown building. A God-like (and haloed) Paterno is at the center, with a Christ-like Sandusky at his right hand, both of them surrounded by angelic coaches and players. After the convictions and the firings and the sanctions, we watch Polito paint over the image of the disgraced Sandusky. Then, after much soul searching, Polito paints over Paterno’s halo but leaves the rest of beloved Joe Pa intact. Painting over that halo, says Polito, is “the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” There is also much lamentation when the statue of Paterno is removed from its hallowed spot in front of the football stadium and unceremoniously hauled away. Such events pass for traumas inside a bubble like Happy Valley, Pa. It’s sickening and fascinating to watch Tyler Estright and Michael Polito and other Penn State football supporters not because they’re unusual but because, as Happy Valley makes clear, so many other people in Pennsylvania and the rest of America feel exactly the way they feel. In the end, this movie is not really about a sexual predator and his enabler. It’s about what their downfall illuminates: a nation so drunk on sports, especially on big-time college football, that it has lost the ability to think and feel. America has become a nation, as one reviewer of Happy Valley wrote, “put under a spell, even reduced to grateful infantilism, by the game of football.” How did this come to pass? To arrive at an answer, do what you always do in America: follow the money. In 2010, the Southeastern Conference, which has produced the last seven national champions in college football, became the first conference to make $1 billion in revenue. This year’s three playoff games and associated bowl games are part of a new 12-year TV contract worth $7.3 billion. Baseball, once known as America’s national pastime, has been thoroughly eclipsed by college (and pro) football. Game 1 of last year’s baseball World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Kansas City Royals drew half as many viewers as a mid-season college football game between Florida State and Notre Dame. Some 28 million people tuned in to each of the Jan. 1 playoff games. Football generates about two-thirds of the revenue at major college athletic programs. Yes, big-time college football has turned its stratospheric popularity into one highly productive cash cow. But the game’s current success is built on a pair of unpretty pillars: the grateful infantilism of millions of fans like Tyler Estright; and the fact that the players who generate the billions of dollars in revenue do not receive a dime in compensation. That’s what you might call a killer business model. 2. A Secular Religion College football’s recent tsunami of popularity caught me by surprise, even though I’ve known for years that big-time college football is virtually a secular religion across the South and in such select Yankee hotbeds as State College, Pa.; Columbus, Ohio; South Bend, Indiana; and Ann Arbor, Mich. Now you can add Eugene, Oregon to the list. I attended a few University of Michigan games as a kid -- spectacles that drew upwards of 100,000 fans into the university’s colossal bowl of a stadium. In my memory, there was something distinctly gladiatorial about those games. The South’s passion for college football dates back at least to 1926, when Alabama became the first school from the region to play in the Rose Bowl. Three years after that red-letter date, my late father, then aged 7, snuck under a fence to witness the first game ever played in Sanford Stadium in his hometown of Athens, Ga. -- a 15-0 victory for Georgia over mighty Yale. In the 1960s, coach Bear Bryant, a sort of piney-woods Joe Paterno, turned Alabama into a national powerhouse. In 1982, I landed a job as a Top 40 disc jockey at a Savannah, Ga., radio station that also broadcast the University of Georgia Bulldogs’s football games. One of my side duties was to put together each Saturday’s taped pre-game show, which required me to travel up to the campus in Athens for the annual pre-season Media Day. It was an experience I’ll never forget. Georgia had won the national championship in 1980, and Bulldog running back Herschel Walker was a heavy favorite for the Heisman Trophy in 1982. With the faithful drooling in anticipation of another national title, radios droned the state’s unofficial anthem: “Give Herschel Walker the ball...” When I arrived on the Athens campus for Media Day, there was an armada of TV trucks parked outside the athletic complex, bristling like giant insects. Inside, an army of broadcasters, sportswriters, and nobodies like myself bustled around, interviewing coaches and players. It was an astonishing dance. The interviewers approached their subjects with great deference, especially the star players and the coach, Vince Dooley, who struck me as the biggest gas bag who ever wore pants. All pronouncements were written down or tape-recorded or videotaped as though they were holy writ, soon to be disseminated to the waiting multitudes. It was amazing to watch grown men kowtow to mumbling teenage boys, even if those boys happened to be chiseled, 250-pound slabs of beef. Eventually I broke away from the breathless clots of interviewers crowding around the players, and I noticed...the girls. They were impossibly beautiful, impossibly blonde, impossibly tan, as though they’d all been force-fed a diet of peaches and yogurt and sunshine. The black girls were every bit as luscious. Co-eds don’t look like this up North, I thought. The girls were lurking along the walls in sundresses, and I soon realized they were actually jiggling with impatience for all the old men with the microphones and notebooks to get out of the way so they could get a shot at those beautiful slabs of boy beef, prime boyfriend material, maybe husband material, maybe even N.F.L. meal-ticket material. The air in that room was a hormonal cocktail, so potent, so thick, so musky that I was surprised those girls hadn’t already come out of their sundresses. All in due time, I told myself. As I drove back home to Savannah that evening, I realized I had gotten my first glimpse of the big-time college football business model. It was built on an infantile news media feeding pap to infantile fans, who treated teenage boys like princes while the university raked in millions of dollars off the unpaid labor of those pampered princes. The equation had it all: big money, big media, celebrity, and sex. The only thing missing was academics. More on that in a moment. Alas, the Georgia faithful were to suffer unimaginable heartbreak at the end of that season. Herschel Walker won the Heisman Trophy and the Bulldogs won the Southeastern Conference championship and finished the regular season ranked #1. But in the Sugar Bowl they lost the national championship to the #2 team in the land, the Nittany Lions from Happy Valley, Pa., coached by a doomed god named Joe Paterno. 3. The “Student-Athlete” Which brings us to the NCAA’s most cynical and lucrative myth, the “student-athlete.” Four years after I attended that Media Day in Athens, the president of the University of Georgia resigned when the board of regents implicated him and Vince Dooley, who was athletic director as well as football coach, in a pattern of academic abuse in the admission and advancement of student-athletes. The abuse was brought to light by Jan Kemp, an English professor who had the temerity to complain when higher-ups intervened to give nine football players a passing grade for a remedial English course they had failed. The passing grades enabled the players to compete in that year’s Sugar Bowl. For her trouble, Kemp was demoted, then fired. She sued. At trial, one of the university’s attorneys justified the favorable treatment of a hypothetical football player this way: “We may not make a university student out of him, but if we can teach him to read and write, maybe he can work at the post office rather than as a garbage man when he gets through with his athletic career.” Despite such shrewd lawyering, Kemp won the case and was awarded more than $1 million in damages and lost wages. Cut to the present. The University of North Carolina, which has long prided itself on “the Carolina Way” -- athletic excellence and academic rigor -- is now reeling from revelations that for 18 years a “shadow curriculum” funneled student-athletes into courses that required no class attendance and no course work other than a single paper, which teachers often didn’t read. For such scholarship, more than 1,000 “student-athletes” received high enough grades to be able to continue to compete. Defenders of Joe Paterno never tire of pointing out that 80-plus percent of his football players earned their degrees, compared with a national average of about 50 percent. But as a recent Pittsburgh Post-Gazette study revealed, players on the top 25 football and basketball teams tend to get “clustered” into majors where accommodating professors and less rigorous work loads are more likely to result in grades that allow the athletes to remain eligible to play. At Baylor, the student-athlete’s major of choice is General Studies; at Texas A&M, it’s Agricultural Leadership and Development; at Oregon, it’s Social Science, and so forth. This is not a knock on the student-athletes. Competing on a big-time college football or basketball team -- with its time-consuming practices, training and travel -- is a full-time job, and it leaves players with far less time and energy for academics than non-athletes enjoy. “The Carolina Way,” it turns out, is a fantasy, little more than a hollow PR stunt. Sandwiched between the academic scandals at Georgia and North Carolina is a long and dreary litany of cash payouts, rape charges, shoe scandals, drug busts, the Penn State horror show, and my personal favorite, student-athletes who are unable to read their own contracts when they turn pro. But rococo scandals are just the beginning of the woes now bedeviling the NCAA’s killer business model. The National Labor Relations Board ruled in March that Northwestern University football players are school employees and thus eligible to form a union. In August, a federal judge ruled that the NCAA violates antitrust laws by limiting what college athletes can receive from their “names, images and likenesses.” The ruling stopped short of allowing students to receive money from commercial endorsements while still in school. It also failed to address the elephant in the room: Given the revenues they generate, shouldn’t athletes in big-time college sports, specifically football and basketball, get paid for their services? The answer to that and other vexing questions might come from, of all places, Capitol Hill, where there’s a movement under way to form a presidential commission to look into the numerous problems facing big-time college sports. The NCAA, meanwhile, is already angling to shore up its crumbling business model. In the first half of 2014, the NCAA paid almost a quarter of a million dollars to lobbyists to press the case on Capitol Hill that it deserves an antitrust exemption. Yes indeed, always follow the money. 4. Football as Metaphor How do you explain football’s rampaging popularity? Take your pick. On the most superficial level, the game’s violence has a built-in appeal in a bellicose country like America. The parallels between football and war are almost too patent: the trench warfare at the line of scrimmage, the aerial combat (with occasional bursts of ballet) of the passing game, the bone-crushing contact, the martial precision of the marching bands. Increasingly, there is also the presence of the U.S. military at games -- uniformed personnel participating in on-field ceremonies, fighter planes screaming overhead, game broadcasts peppered with recruiting ads urging members of the underclass to volunteer for the armed services so they can take part in our forever wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Like Hollywood, big-time college football has been thoroughly infiltrated by the U.S. military. There’s a much subtler link between football and the military: the ways players and soldiers get treated. First they’re seduced, then they’re worshiped, then they’re discarded. This link is beautifully captured by Steve Almond in his new book, Against Football: One Fan’s Reluctant Manifesto: The civilian and the fan participate in the same system. We off-load the moral burdens of combat, mostly to young men from the underclass, whom we send off to battle with hosannas and largely ignore when they return home disfigured in body and mind. It is a paradoxical dynamic. After all, part of what it means to be a football fan is that we have a sophisticated appreciation for the game, and a deep respect for the players who compete at the highest level...But it turns out that our adulation…is highly conditional. As soon they no longer excel on the field, they become expendable. Another source of football’s popularity is that it’s ideally suited to television -- short bursts of violent action separated by downtime that can be used to over-analyze the action or sell things. Compare this to baseball’s unhurried, relatively seamless pacing (and lack of a game clock), or with soccer’s two halves of 45 uninterrupted minutes of action when no one tries to sell the viewer anything. Baseball and soccer can’t hope to surpass football’s appeal to a populace with a wide violent streak, a short attention span, and an innate impatience with narratives that unfold at a leisurely pace. Americans detest longueurs almost as much as they love their shock and their awe. If baseball belongs to the pastoral 19th century, football is a perfect fit with the frenzied, fragmented 21st. Isn’t professional football, with its stratospheric salaries, concussions, and domestic-violence scandals, even worse than big-time college football? I think not. The billionaires who own NFL franchises may enjoy unconscionable tax breaks because the IRS regards NFL teams as “non-profit” operations, and the owners may stage their untaxed extravaganzas in stadiums funded by taxpayers, but at least those rich owners pay their players, and pay them well. There’s a certain sleazy integrity to the NFL that’s absent from the NCAA. And the NFL, for all its many faults, has inspired at least two very fine novels -- Peter Gent’s North Dallas Forty and Frederick Exley’s A Fan’s Notes. That’s not nothing. So feel free to take your pick as to why big-time college and pro football are so popular. Much more interesting to me, in the end, is what football means. I see it as nothing less than a metaphor for America. The game and the nation were built on a shared impulse: the drive to acquire an enemy’s territory through violence. Is this overly simplistic? I don’t think so, because games reveal character, both of individuals and of groups (teams and fans, even nations). I believe that a football team’s drive down the field is an echo of one of the central narratives of our national history -- the drive west through the forceful subjugation of the native populace. If you buy this equation, you begin to see just how deeply football is threaded into America’s DNA. It’s nothing less than a crystallization of our national character. No wonder so many millions of Americans are drunk on the game. And as we become increasingly infantilized by sports and celebrity worship, technology and consumer goods, no wonder a fan like Tyler Estright becomes outraged that more than 100 of Penn State’s football victories were vacated, yet he remains virtually indifferent that dozens of boys were sexually abused by one of the school’s assistant coaches. After a while, it starts to make perfect sense. 5. The Pure Joy of Play I love to play sports, especially pick-up basketball, and I enjoy watching sports in small doses, especially minor-league baseball, and basketball at the high school and small-time college levels. (Though as Friday Night Lights reminded us, high school sports are not immune to many of the ills that have perverted big-time college sports.) So, a few nights ago, I went up to the Bronx to watch a basketball game between two mid-level NCAA Division I schools, Fordham University and Siena College. There were barely 1,000 spectators in Fordham’s lovely old gym, there was not a single NBA prospect on the floor, and both teams have at best a modest chance of winning their respective conference tournaments and qualifying for the big-money NCAA tournament in March. Despite all this -- or, rather, because of it -- the game was a thing of beauty, a tight, well played tussle between two groups of talented young men who play for the love of a game that has given them a chance to get a free college education. The true beauty of that game in the Bronx was that it was not about making money. It was about something much bigger, the thing that sports are supposed to be about but too rarely are in America today. It was about the pure joy of play. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Some weeks my New Yorker shows up on Tuesday; other weeks it doesn't arrive until the weekend. This week it showed up late, and that's why I'm writing about it even as it's being removed from news stands to make way for next week's issue. But I was glad to finally get to it, especially after noting that it was the summer fiction issue. But it's not the typical summer fiction issue and certainly doesn't fit the accepted idea of "Summer Reading." This issue is about war, and I'm glad that the New Yorker decided to put together an issue like this, since it is shockingly easy - three years after we invaded Iraq - to forget that this country is at war right now. It's also fitting since we've been discussing war quite a bit at The Millions lately. Last month I reviewed An Army at Dawn by Rick Atkinson, which led readers to help me compile lists of World War 2 fiction and nonfiction. Vasily Grossman appeared on both lists, and his story "In Kislovodsk" (not available online) is in this New Yorker. Also contributing is Uwem Akpan with "My Parents' Bedroom." Akpan was in last year's debut fiction issue.But more broadly, the issue is a nice reminder that as life goes on here in the States, war rages on in Iraq. The New Yorker has done this most vividly by providing "Soldiers' Stories: Letters, e-mails, and journals from the Gulf." The magazine has also created an audio slide show for the online version of the piece:This week, The New Yorker publishes a selection of letters, journal entries, and personal essays by soldiers, airmen, sailors, and marines who served in the current war in Iraq. The writings are part of a project sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts called Operation Homecoming. An anthology of the work, edited by the historian Andrew Carroll, will be published this fall by Random House. Here, in an Audio Slide Show produced by Matt Dellinger, five of the servicemen read from their work, accompanied by their photographs.
1. It’s a nightly ritual. After we’ve dog-eared the page on the book we’re reading, and my son has put on his PJs and brushed his teeth, he stands in front of his bedroom mirror with a toy bat and takes a few swings. Some nights he’s Buster Posey, the San Francisco Giants’ all-star catcher. Other nights he’s Seattle Mariners’ second baseman Robinson Cano, who smashed a line-drive two-run homer at a game we saw in Seattle last year. Most often, though, he’s just him, Luke Bourne, coming to bat in game seven of the World Series, bases loaded, game on the line. As he takes his swings, I remind him to bend his knees. I explain again where to set his feet, how to step into the pitch and turn his hips. “The power’s in your legs, not your arms,” I tell him, hearing the voice of my Little League coach explaining this to me more than 30 years ago. When Luke doesn’t understand what I mean, I do what my coach used to do: I take the bat from his hand and show him, digging my imaginary cleats into the imaginary brick dust, knees bent, bat back, my muscles easing into place as if I’d last picked up a bat a week ago and not sometime in the early 1980s. In his eight years, Luke has galloped through his share of childhood passions: Thomas the Tank Engine, various Pixar movie franchises, Pokémon, Power Rangers, Angry Birds, on and on. For me, the common thread in these obsessions has been that before they entered our lives I knew nothing about them. I had never heard of Thomas the Tank Engine, and then one day our living room was overrun with little wooden tracks and talking toy train engines. Baseball is different. It stands alone among my son’s boyhood obsessions in that the game I played and obsessed over when I was his age is in every essential respect the same game he plays and is obsessed about now. This week, as the Major League Baseball season kicks off, I am reminded again why the game of baseball speaks to parents like me who stand across the digital divide from their kids. When I was a kid, there was no Internet and a phone was a thing you dialed. There were just three major TV channels and if you wanted to play a video game you went to an arcade and fed quarters into a machine. The shows we watched, the music we listened to, even the costumes we wore on Halloween -- so much of it is foreign to my son now. The baseball diamond is that rare place where my knowledge overlaps with my son’s passions. When I take Luke to a game or we play catch in the backyard, the conversations we have and the lessons I impart to him about how to swing the bat or field a ground ball are the same ones my father shared with me when I was a kid. What else in modern life is like that? 2. My son’s cultural universe is a rich overlay of the deeply familiar and the seriously odd. When I was his age, every Saturday morning my brother and sister piled into my room, where the TV was, to watch Bugs Bunny and Scooby Doo while my parents slept upstairs. Luke does much the same thing, except that when I venture into his room after I’ve had my coffee and read the paper, he is sitting in bed, an iPad in his lap, watching not Bugs Bunny or Scooby Doo, but uploaded video clips of Chinese kids playing Angry Birds on their tablets, doing the play-by-play on their games -- in Chinese. There is, I admit, a charmingly DIY element to this. I grew up on Gilligan’s Island and the Super Friends, televised pap produced by large corporations to sell cheap toys and food produced by other, still-larger corporations. I love that thanks to technology children’s TV now enables kids to communicate with other kids from around the world, even if all they're talking about is video games. But where exactly do I fit into this conversation? I’ve played Angry Birds and found it dull beyond description, an endless, digitized version of throwing a ball at cans on a fence. I can’t imagine watching other kids brag in Chinese about their prowess at slinging cartoon birds at cartoon pigs, and even if I could stand it, what would Luke and I have to talk about afterward? My yearning for a point of connection with my son is, of course, prelude to a more profound cultural disconnect I know is coming. Eight years old is a golden age when playing Monopoly with your dad still seems a fine way to spend a rainy Saturday afternoon, when “Oh, fudge!” is still a perfectly functional, non-ironic thing to say when your dad lands on Boardwalk before you do. This will change. Before long, Luke will be listening to music that makes my teeth ache, hanging out with kids I don’t approve of, and making choices I know he will regret. I will do my best. I will parent. But even if he lands on the far shores of adulthood safe and sound, at some essential level I will lose him. I know this. Every parent with any sense does. This is why baseball matters so much to me. In an era of relentless change, when to be a parent is to spend one’s life looking at a device in a child’s hand and ask “So, what does that do?” – here is one thing that has remained constant without losing its capacity to dazzle. Here is one thing a dad and an eight-year-old can talk about without either one having to pretend to be interested. I was a serious, if not particularly gifted ballplayer, but I quit playing in high school, and by the time Luke came along, I’d more or less forgotten about baseball. But a couple years ago when, on a whim, I bought us tickets to see a minor-league team here in Vancouver, I was stunned to find the game still there, just as I had left it. Thirty years later, baseball players still run the way I ran when I played baseball, head high, butt out, gum popping in the jaw. Everyone on the field is chewing something: gum, sunflower seeds, tobacco. And then there is that peculiarly male obsession with costume. Caps that sit just so. Eye-black. Flip-up shades. One kind of glove for batting, another for running the bases, another still for playing the field. Watching the game was like walking into a house where I’d lived as a child and finding it not sadly shrunken or dusty with age, but exactly as I remembered it, except with better food. At the start of the game, as the home team pitcher, a lanky 20-year-old flamethrower from the Dominican Republic, trotted onto the field, he paused a split-second at the foul line and hopped neatly onto the infield grass. I understood instantly. For generations, pitchers have observed a superstition against touching the chalk line while running on and off the field. Here I was at a minor-league ballpark in Canada watching a player from the Caribbean who wasn’t even alive when I stopped playing obey an arbitrary tradition that I'd picked up in my suburban California childhood. “Hey, did you see what the pitcher just did,” I said to Luke, and in doing so, passed the tradition on to him. 3. Baseball is criticized for being stodgy and slow, a vestige of a bygone age. There is some truth to this. The game can be painfully languid. Three minutes of talking and scratching and chewing passes for every five seconds of action. And for all the talk of Sabermetrics and the scandals over performance-enhancing drugs, baseball remains spectacularly hidebound. The players change from year to year, but the game they’re playing hasn’t changed since the designated hitter rule came in more than 40 years ago. The bases are still 90 feet apart. It’s still 60 feet six inches from the pitcher’s mound to home plate. A ball caught high in the webbing of the glove is still a “snow cone.” A home run is still a “dinger” or “going yard.” No batter in the history of the game has ever stepped into the batter’s box and not spit at least once before the pitcher threw the ball. But for me, this continuity is the game’s charm, a source of its enduring attraction. We live in a forward-looking culture that prizes newness above all else. Every technology must be disruptive. Every pop star must shock us. Every novel must seek to somehow reinvent literature. We’re so busy chasing the new, we can forget the purpose of tradition, which is to provide a safe, circumscribed space for people of different ages and cultures to find connection. This is how it has worked for Luke and me. I now help coach his Little League team, and every time we drive by a game, whether it’s Little League, high school, or a grown-man’s beer league, we stop to watch an inning or two. He loves it, watching batters work the count, predicting whether a baserunner will try to steal, rhythmically stomping his feet on the metal grandstands to cheer on the home team -- even if we have no idea who the home team is. I like all this, too, but what I like most is the unguardedness of the conversations we have at ballparks. Maybe you have to be a man to know how hard it is for two men to talk openly, even if one of you is only eight years old. But all that falls away at a ballpark or in the backyard playing catch. There, Luke wants to know everything. Does the catcher flash one finger or two to signal for the fastball? What’s a pick-off man? Daddy, show me again how to throw a curveball. No kid should throw a curveball till he’s in high school, but I’m happy to explain it again, moving his tiny fingers over the seams of the ball, showing him the flick of the wrist that makes the ball spin, because in that moment he’s present, he’s listening to me, in ways he will at almost no other time. Tonight, after Luke has brushed his teeth and put on his PJs, and we’ve checked whether his beloved San Francisco Giants won their season opener against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Luke will get out his toy bat and take his swings. I’ll remind him to bend his knees and keep his bat back, and he’ll watch himself in the mirror, smiling as he swings. He’ll never be a Buster Posey or a Robinson Cano, but that isn’t the point. The point is that night after night he's letting me teach him how to be him. Someday, I know, he will face his own version of game seven of the World Series. Maybe it will be a major deadline at work. Maybe it will a personal choice, a split-second decision that will shape a lifetime. Whatever it is, I want him to be ready. I want my boy to know how to be Luke Bourne. Image Credit: Wikipedia.
● ● ●