Volume 3, Issue 58: My Darling
"Grow up now, my darling, please don't you grow up too fast."
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For this first time in two years, I am coaching Little League. Longtime readers of this newsletter have been hearing about my Little League coaching for years, from my philosophy of coaching to my frustration with how adults can sometimes ruin what Little League is all about. I love doing it, as much as anything, but I’ll confess to probably getting too emotional about it in the past. I never cared about winning, at all, but Little League means something to me. My Dad coached me, and the kids he coached still talk about how much playing on his team instilled in them a love of baseball that lasts to this day. I care about Little League, a lot, maybe too much. It can be difficult when occaasionally confronted with adults, real live grown-ass men, who treat Little League as a way to re-legislate their own unhappy childhoods or personal disappointments and take it out on kids who, unlike them, still have a chance in life. There was a particularly harrowing Little League game a few years ago that, when it was over, had me honestly questioning whether or not humanity had any redeeming value to offer the planet. I will confess that, watching the insurrection on January 6, I actually caught myself thinking at one point, “Hey, a couple of those guys look like they coach Little League.”
I was still suffering this crisis of confidence last spring, when the new season was about to begin. It wasn’t that I didn’t still love coaching and running around in the dirt with those kids. But I found myself stressing out constantly, worrying I was going to run into some asshole coach or angry parent, or that I’d make a mistake and ruin some kid’s self-worth, or just that the whole concept of Little League was something that was theoretically wonderful but couldn’t help but be thwarted by just how messed up flawed and fragile adult humans can make things sometimes. I’d hoped a relentless positive attitude as a coach—the only job Little League has is to make kids love baseball; that is it—would help inspire a little bit of change, and while I found my share of like-minded individuals, all it would take was one snarling, hyper-aggressive coach to send me back spiraling. It started to become not fun, and if it wasn’t fun for me, it sure wasn’t going to be fun for the kids.
I still signed up to coach again, mostly because it would be my last chance to coach my son William, who would be moving up to more “serious” leagues when he turned nine (which is its own problem, that any sort of league with nine-year-olds could be “serious”), leagues I had no interest in having anything to do with. I’d coach one more year, then just get to be a normal dad sitting in the stands, hoping his kid does well but otherwise disengaged from the process. I’m a busy guy. Life’s really stressful. Why add something else that’s so hard? Why push my blood pressure up any higher than it already is? One year would be enough.
And then, three practices into the season … the pandemic hit. The season was postponed, and then canceled, and next thing you knew, we were all in our houses for a year. (There were also many other things that happened, outside of our houses and having nothing to do with Little League baseball.) The people we are this upcoming summer, when we emerge from the last year, scarred but still standing, will be different than the ones we were in March 2020. It will take a while to figure out what has changed, with ourselves, with everyone around us, and I suspect there will be a reshuffling of everything for a while as we decipher just what this new world looks like. But we will also look for constants; we will look for the familiar. And this year: I wanted Little League Baseball back. I just needed to see little kids running around outside and playing. I wasn’t sure if I was ready for it, and I didn’t move up a level or anything; I decided to coach the team of my younger son Wynn, the less sports-obsessed one, still young enough to where it’s silly and fun. Or at least it is supposed to be.
(The picture above is from two years ago. Photoshop masks on everybody if you want it to feel current.)
We are now five games into our new season. This season is definitely different. We are in a pandemic, after all. Some Little Leagues, particularly in the South, have just charged forward like nothing’s is going on, like Covid precautions are for wimps, but I’m glad the Athens Little League has been more cautious and proactive, with all sorts of new rules, including mask mandates for everyone in attendance, extended dugouts to accommodate social distancing and postgame tips of the hat rather than high-five lines. I am used to high fiving and hugging and generally wrestling around with the rugrats—they are seven years old, after all; sometimes you have to physically pick them up and turn them to run toward first base, not third—but there’s none of that this year. There are elbow pounds, Bash Brothers-style, and glove taps, and I’ll confess I occasionally get excited at give a kid an atta-boy smack on the helmet, but otherwise, it’s full Arrested Development NO TOUCHING. Everything’s a little bit more awkward with Little League in a pandemic, just like everything’s a little bit more awkward. It’s not perfect, nothing’s ever going to be perfect, but people are doing their best.
But I have to tell you: It’s wonderful. It’s wonderful. It’s wonderful to see these kids, who have seen their parents scared and anxious for a year, who have been trying to learn through iPads, who haven’t seen their friends, who have missed so, so much, just outside and being joyous. They run around each other like Labrador puppies, let loose, let free. No one has played in two years, so there are a lot of strikeouts, and a lot of errors, and a lot of confusion about when you are supposed to run where, and I’ve had to stop about six different aluminum bat brainings because some kid is swinging when he’s not supposed to be. But they’re so happy. They are released.
And God I’m having a blast. How can you not be happy when you’re around happy children? So many of the things I used to fret about, I just don’t care about them anymore. I’m no longer trying to change the world of Little League. I can’t do anything about what other people do. I can just make sure the kids on my team are having fun, that they don’t feel stressed, or pressured, or anxious, that they understand that being able to run around in the sun and the dirt and the grass is something that someday, when they’re 45 and wracked with worry about their families and jobs and finances, they’re going to remember as some of the simplest, most soothing times in their lives—just as I remember them as part of mine. If I run across an angry coach or parent, it doesn’t ruin my day anymore. I can’t control how they react to the world, or what they value, and I honestly don’t know enough of their story to be passing any judgment on them anyway. I can just appreciate how fortunate I am to get to do this, to run and play and be joyous, and be grateful for it, be grateful for all of it. My team is playing better, but I honestly do not know what our record is and do not care. We’re not getting everything perfect. We’re still trying to be safe. It’s not exactly what is was before. But we’re out there living again.
And all told: It’s better. That’s the thing that makes me most excited for the months to come, as we travel, as we see old friends, as we gather again, as we try to return to the rhythms of our old lives, as we try to establish new ones. I coached Little League before the pandemic, and now I’ve coached it after. I like it better now. I appreciate it more. The grass is brighter, the pop of the glove is louder, the crack of the bat sweeter, the smiles wider. I know how quickly it can be taken away now. All I was obsessed with, all the worry, all the frustration, that was just getting in the way of the reason I was doing all of this in the first place. I realize that now. And now it’s better.
What else will be like this? Happy hour with friends, a baseball game with my dad or my sons, a concert, a weekend away with my wife, a quiet sushi meal by myself with a book, an otherwise unremarkable gathering at the house of someone I don’t even know that well. Normal things, things we would even catch ourselves grousing about, things we kept looking past, instead of directly at. I’m soaking up every minute of Little League now. It’s the most fun thing in my life. I cannot wait to see what the most fun thing is next. I have a feeling, for a while anyway … that fun thing might just be everything. We can just soak up all of it.
WEEKLY BOOK UPDATE: FIVE WEEKS TO LAUNCH
Every week here at The Will Leitch Newsletter, we count down the weeks until the release of How Lucky, my novel that comes out May 11. This is the spot for weekly news, updates and pre-order reminders.
I promise this will be the only time I put this in the newsletter—I say this because I’ve been hawking it everywhere else all week—but this remains one of the more surreal things to happen in my career, or really my life.
I had heard he was reading a galley of the book, but, suffice it to say, I didn’t know that was coming. (I also didn’t it was coming late on a Saturday night.) I still haven’t quite wrapped my mind around the fact that Stephen King even knows my book exists, let alone was such a big fan of it. I’ll probably still be processing it for a while.
Anyway: That’s the only update I have for you, five weeks out. I think that’s plenty.
So: You can pre-order the book right now. If you don’t want to use Amazon, I recommend Bookshop. Or Avid, my local bookstore here in Athens. But if you’re even slightly interested, pre-ordering is very helpful.
Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality.
Baseball Has An Incredible Opportunity This Summer. Will It Screw It Up? New York. It’s going to be a wonderful summer. But next? Let’s see.
Trump Is Getting Smaller, Medium. For those who asked, in the wake of their reorganization over there: Yes, I’m still writing for Medium. Just as much, in fact!
The Ten Best Moments of Opening Day, MLB.com. So, so happy to have baseball back. This is probably not a surprise to you.
100 Predictions For the 2021 MLB Season, MLB.com. I actually used to do 250 for Sports On Earth back in the day. This is downright moderate.
SCOTUS Crunches the NCAA, NBC News. That was actually kind of fun to watch!
The Four People You Must Know From the Final Four, GQ. Kofi should have been on here.
Opening Day Starters, Ranked, MLB.com. Sometimes I offend Cubs fans without even meaning to.
DC Movies, Ranked and Updated, Vulture. This was from last week, with Zack Snyder’s Justice League, but I forgot to include it.
After way too long of a delay, I am back talking weekly about the Cardinals with the great Bernie Miklasz. I missed it, a lot. The podcast is, annoyingly, still not on iTunes/Apple Podcasts, but you can hear it through 590 the Fan’s Website, as well as on Spotify. We’re up every Monday around lunchtime throughout the season. Very excited.
Grierson & Leitch, we discussed “Nobody,” “Bad Trip” and “Synedoche, New York.”
Waitin' Since Last Saturday, no show this week.
LONG STORY YOU SHOULD READ THIS MORNING … OF THE WEEK
“The Hosts Battling to Be Fox News’ Next Tucker Carlson,” Justin Peters, Slate. There are all sorts of crazy things going on at Fox right now, and Peters nails down just how crazy by looking at their recent “tryouts.”
ARBITRARY THINGS RANKED, WITHOUT COMMENT, FOR NO PARTICULAR REASON
St. Louis Cardinals Teams of My Years as a Parent
ONGOING LETTER-WRITING PROJECT!
Write me at:
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603
CURRENTLY LISTENING TO
“Cult of Personality,” Living Colour. I once lip-synced this song to my entire Mattoon Junior High school while wearing a pom-pom on my head. I am so lucky to have grown up before the Internet. Also: In 1989, Guns ‘N’ Roses and Living Colour opened for the Rolling Stones on the Steel Wheels Tour. That sentence made some fluid drain out of my left ear.
Remember to listen to The Official Will Leitch Newsletter Spotify Playlist, featuring every song ever mentioned in this section.
It will be 10 years this October since this happened:
I am ready for us to all get back there again. This is at least a start:
Be safe, all.