Discover more from The Will Leitch Newsletter
Volume 4, Issue 61: Chris Carpenter
"He's just physically intimidating on that mound."
One thing you forget when you are an adult is how tall adults are. The Belgian film Playground—which made both Grierson’s and my Top Ten lists last year—takes place entirely on a school playground and is shot solely at the eye level of the children. The adults in the film are looming but distant creatures, removed from the immediate fears and needs of the children—too far up in the sky to understand what it’s like down there in the trenches. In the film, you never see their faces except for when they briefly descend from the heavens to look down upon you. A kid never forgets how powerless they truly are—how much the gods above them dictate everything.
Size just matters so much when you are a kid. My cousin Denny was always the smallest kid in our friend group growing up, which meant, even though he was already riding motocross and thus inherently tougher than all of us, we all treated him like he was our little mascot. Today, Denny is actually about an inch or two taller than all of us, and in better shape, and a helluva lot tougher. But I think our friend group will still always think of him as the little guy. When you’re a kid, size is the organizing principle, the single overarching hierarchy.
I am not coaching Little League baseball this year, partly because I’ve got a book coming out and can’t dedicate the time, partly because the leagues are getting too competitive for my tastes (and my skillset), partly because I think my sons have a little more fun when they have a different coach than me—they feel more comfortable being themselves, just another member of the team, without Dad lurking from the dugout. But I’m still out at the Little League park every night, watching William’s games three nights a week and Wynn’s twice a week. When you’re not coaching, when you can just watch the games from the stands, details like the lineup or the pitching matchup or the score start to fade away. The game itself begins to matter less, and you focus more on the social dynamics of children running around the dirt.
And it’s all about size. How big the big kids are. How small the small kids are. And how everyone reacts when they all collide.
In last night’s game, my son’s team, which is a pretty good team, faced the best team in the league. The best team in the league is the best team in the league for many reasons—they’re well-coached, they’re all invested in the game, they play with joy and togetherness—but the primary reason they are good is that they are big. Being big can make all the difference. The oldest age for kids in this league is 12, but I don’t know if you’ve seen any 12-year-olds lately, but a lot of them are huge. Look at this guy.
OK, so most 12-year-olds aren’t that big. But they get pretty big! And this league has more than its fair share of them. Now, I do not consider either of my sons small. In fact, I’ve found that “I cannot believe how large these two humans who live in this house have gotten” is a thought that enters my head at least twice day. But when they interact with other humans their own age, it’s always surprising to discover that they’re slightly smaller than the average height for their age. Which can’t help but change the way that they, and everyone their size and smaller, see the world.
And it’s how all these kids react to that that’s so exciting.
Last night, because a player on my son’s team couldn’t make it to the game, they called up a kid from one of the younger leagues, a nine-year-old league, to fill in. The kid looked every bit of nine years old. The difference in size between a small nine-year-old and a big, aggressive, throwing-the-ball-as-hard-as-he-can 12-year-old is so vast it’s almost pushing it to consider them the same species. The other team had a monster of a kid on the mound: Huge, talented, dedicated to being great, the type of player any coach would want. He’s such a good, strong player that, when he’s out there, you can almost forget he is a child. Off the field, I know the kid: He’s sweet and gentle and goofy; he always seems to have a popsicle. He’s a kid. But he sure didn’t feel like a kid to that nine-year-old coming to the plate to face him. He must have looked like a dragon.
But it is in these moments that a part of one’s character can be revealed—or, at least, forged. Because when you are nine years old, and tiny, and you are coming to the plate against a mammoth 12-year-old, you are no longer playing a baseball game. You are facing every fear. You are challenging yourself. You are seeing what you are made of.
Adults, we are not great at this. We have learned how to construct our lives in a way that can studiously avoid these tests of mettle, to elude these sort of direct confrontations, to keep things level and normal and safe. This is not always a terrible thing; life is hard enough, after all. Every day brings some sort of challenge we weren’t prepared for. Why construct them in some sort of stark way when you don’t need to?
But it is still good to test one’s self. It is good to see how you will respond when challenged. And it’s absolutely vital for children.
I watched that nine-year-old last night step up to the plate against a human being more than twice his size, throwing as hard as he could, on a Friday night way past everybody’s (including mine) bedtime. I looked at that nine-year-old. He was scared—there were no question about that. I was scared for him. But he went up there anyway, walked right up to that plate, held that bat in his hands, and prepared for whatever faced him. The kid is small—he’s small all the time, and to many of his friends, he will be small forever. But he did it anyway. He dug in, gripped the bat tight and stared down whatever violence that might be in front of him.
He struck out, on three pitches. We all cheered. He smiled on his way back to the dugout and high-fived a teammate. See: That wasn’t so bad.
As adults, we are excellent at cobbling together worlds where we can silo off our fears, where we can stow them in a place where we do not have to confront them. Children have no such luxury. It’s scary being small. But the thing is that we’re all small. Everything, in the end, is bigger than us. It’s how we face that fundamental fact that matters. Everything’s too big, until it isn’t. And in the end: That wasn’t so bad.
SEVEN WEEKS TO BOOK LAUNCH
Every week here at The Will Leitch Newsletter, we countdown the weeks until the release of The Time Has Come, my novel that comes out May 16. This is the spot for weekly news, updates and pre-order reminders.
Hey, here’s a fun game we’ll play today: The first three people to post the cover of the new book with a link to buy it on their Instagram page (post or story), like, the second you read this, will get a free early reader copy of The Time Has Come mailed to them by me personally. Make sure to tag my Instagram williamfleitch so I can see it. You also are required, when you get the book and have finished reading it, to give it a review on the book’s Goodreads page. (I hope it will be a good review?)
But you better hurry up and do the Instagram tag the second you read this, like, right now.
Just a small update this week, about bookstores! We are finalizing all book tour business right now, so this is your last chance: If you want your bookstore to be a part of our tour, email me ASAP. We’re game for anything. Just have your bookstore contact me, and we’ll see what we can set up. This is also a part of the pre-order contest, but we’re going to be announcing the tour lineup soon, and we’re being very liberal about where we might go. So if you want me to come, have your bookstore reach out as soon as you can. We’ll go have beers afterward, it’ll be fun.
Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality.
Your National League East Preview, MLB.com. The season starts next week, which means we’re almost caught up on these.
Your American League Central Preview, MLB.com. And now we’re caught up.
Your Annual Men’s Sweet 16 Rootability Rankings, New York. Just one piece a year when I try to be funny and a little mean.
I Ranked All the Starting Pitching Matchups on Opening Day, MLB.com. I can do this all day.
Why the Media Thinks Trump Is Indestructible, Medium. An old fun inside-media-baseball story from the Bloomberg Politics days.
Your Annual Women’s Sweet 16 Rootability Rankings, New York. As always, a free bit we put in the comments of the main post.
The Thirty: Each Team’s Most Fun Promotion, MLB.com. Love the Outkast Braves bobblehead.
It’s All Trump’s Fault, Medium. Don’t forget why this has all happened.
Grierson & Leitch, we discussed “Shazam! Fury of the Gods,” “Boston Strangler” and “The Last Days of Disco.”
Seeing Red, Bernie and I did our last show of the year for a week when there are no games.
Waitin' Since Last Saturday, no show this week.
LONG STORY YOU SHOULD READ THIS MORNING … OF THE WEEK
ONGOING LETTER-WRITING PROJECT!
This is your reminder that if you write me a letter and put it in the mail, I will respond to it with a letter of my own, and send that letter right to you! It really happens! Hundreds of satisfied customers!
Write me at:
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603
CURRENTLY LISTENING TO
“Feeling Yourself Disintegrate,” The Flaming Lips. Certain albums are almost a little too powerful—too tied into dark memories, or just too intense in general—to casually listen to while working (which is what I’m doing most of the time): You inevitably have to stop what you’re doing and concentrate solely on listening. The Soft Bulletin will forever be one of those albums for me. Is this the song I want playing when my coffin is lowered into the ground? It just might be.
Remember to listen to The Official Will Leitch Newsletter Spotify Playlist, featuring every song ever mentioned in this section.
You may remember our bracket game, in which the winner of our NCAA Tournament pool gets to assign me a newsletter topic. After a truly crazy Friday night of the tournament, look who is potentially poised to win this thing.
That’s right: My Dad, Bryan Leitch right there, is the highest-ranked entry with his champion still in the tournament. If Gonzaga wins this thing, I’m pretty sure Bryan Leitch is going to win the tournament bracket. What kind of newsletter with my father assign me? I’m pretty curious to find out!
Have a great weekend, all.