Loudest Guy in the Dugout

Too many endings for one week. On Thursday, graduation. On Saturday, high school baseball.

Of the two, baseball bothered me more. Surprised?

High school hasn’t been the same since they eliminated shop class and somehow decided that every subject in the 21st century would be about college prep – not life prep.

Smartacus is fortunate, in that he has a dad who knows how to turn a wrench or drive a nail (how to blunt the tip so it doesn’t split the wood). He is fortunate in that I can teach him those trades myself, though he shows little interest.

He’s actually a pretty good house painter though, after helping me with the living room last fall. One day, I’d like to show him the glories of drip irrigation, not just the Euclidean geometry of it, and the purple glue, but the wonders of the control box.

In time.

My theory: A young man needs to use his mind, but also his hands. Otherwise, what do you do with your fingers all day? I can think of a few things, but none of them are useful, and many are a little – how to put it – morally obtuse? Like, humor writing, for instance.

Better to plant some parsley or paint a basement door. Right there, you’ve made the world a prettier place.

I think I’ve made the world a prettier place merely by introducing young Smartacus to it. Like many teenagers, he’s worthless on many levels – his bedroom looks like a mine collapse. And when he opens anything — a letter, or a bag of chips — the packaging remains wherever he happened to be at the moment.

There are, conservatively, a thousand dirty socks fluttering everywhere across the house. Honestly, I thought the French were surrendering again.

He started a sonic revolution in the dugout, cheering on batters with the indecipherable growl of an abandoned dog.

This can’t continue, of course. Or I will run him up a flag pole, and not let him down till he vows to clean up his act. Good parenting is a series of gentle nudges like that.

At graduation, as other classmates waltzed happily across the lush Rose Bowl carpet, he shuffled back to his seat like someone who’d just stepped in gum.

That’s just another thing that makes Smartacus special. He savors the moment.

Like his father, millions of things go off in his mind all at once, before he can fixate on just one of them, then worry it to death.

You’re welcome, son. Good genes are everything.

For 15 years, his primary fixation has been baseball. Then the other day, that ended too, a stellar career … another paradise lost. It was like when Barbara Hershey shot Redford in the gut and you thought: “But she seemed sooooo nice!”

Later, another woman poisoned Redford. I always found “The Natural” to be a blueprint for the vagaries of a well-played life.

Because Redford found his way back, as will Smartacus. Baseball is a chronic condition, a silver bullet gnawing at your interior tubing.

Besides, you never just one day decide to stop loving a true love. Such things are up to the universe. Which explains my lingering affection for Milk Duds. Or Suzanne Pleshette.

You know, a baseball game is like nothing else in life. It starts out as a blank page. Then batter by batter, inning by inning, a storyline begins to emerge. There are heroes, and there are goats. As with love, some endings are good, others rotten.

Poor Smartacus. He had a dad for a coach, and if that’s not agony enough, his dad is this Bohemian writer who thinks he knows all about rolling the wrists and loading for pitches, and all the other hitting cliches.

In truth, I know hitting the way magpies know math (only in a poetic, conceptual sense).

I will say this: Were any scout looking for the loudest guy in the dugout, they’d do well to recruit Smartacus. UCLA? The Chicago Cubs? In a pinch, he might even consider the American League.

This season, Smartacus was a force. He started a sonic revolution in the varsity dugout, cheering on batters with the indecipherable growl of an abandoned dog. It caught on, of course.

Grrrrrrrrrrr…crush it, kid. Bash it, baby…Grrrrrrrrrrrr.

To me, it sounded like Miley Cyrus with a hangover – 20 Mileys, all growling. Kind of scary, yet kind of thrilling too.

I have to say it worked. This guttural chorus line formed a sphere of success that propelled his high school team to a winning record and, eventually, the CIF playoffs.

In the game of the season, with two outs and two strikes, Timmy crushed a double to the gap. His teammate, Evan, raced around third with the winning run, like Odysseus heading back to Ithaca.

As Odysseus rounded third base that day – in super slo-mo — you could see the smile on his face and the relay from the outfield – the dreaded “double-cut,” which rarely goes well, even in the pros.

Indeed, it would take two perfect throws to wipe the huge smile off Odysseus’ face — Coach Carl knew that, and windmilled Odysseus back to his rightful kingdom.

Walkoff win. Game over.

Our dugout went bonkers. The fans went nuts.

Seriously, how much do kids have to get bonkers about these days? Well, we found this one thing at least, then took Smartacus and Odysseus for greasy pizza at the little joint they haven’t cleaned in decades.

That’s baseball, too.

Finished the season 13-6, and No. 1 in all the categories that really count: teamwork, camaraderie, spitting, scratching, kvetching.

“Fields like this,” I said later at the team banquet, “are where the best memories are made.”

Yeah. I said that. Without a trace of sarcasm or irony, which might be a first for me. Even as a baby, there was a wryness to the way I cooed.

At the banquet, I cooed it out loud – “…where the best memories are made” — convinced that, of all the things I only claim to know, I know this one thing: Baseball is a gift.

And you crushed it, kid.


Catch up on all the graduation milestones, at ChrisErskineLA.com, where you can also buy books and sign up for hiking info. We are just weeks away from a big gin bash and another happy hour hike. Meanwhile, my recipe of the week: Peel a large red onion, cut it into quarters, though not all the way through. You want it to hold together at the base as you feather out the layers a little. Smear with butter (in between layers a bit), sprinkle with parmesan, wrap in heavy foil and place on a hot grill for 45 minutes. Magic. Like baseball, pure magic. Hugs.

10 thoughts on “Loudest Guy in the Dugout

  1. Hope this doesn’t post twice..my reply disappeared poof! I wholeheartedly agree about the memories being made on the field or whatever playing surface they’re playing on. Kodak moments to last a lifetime.

  2. And columns like THIS are where priceless memories are captured. Odysseus is the perfect metaphor to make that game come alive in my mind. Who but you could have dreamed that up? Oh and Miley Cyrus too. Priceless, Chris.

  3. Our son and our grandsons, those were the best times of our life. Watching them play sports and going to the USC football games, sorry Chris. There’s something about sports that draws a family together.

  4. Feeling dense. Mixed metaphor? I can’t tell if Chris Erskine is messing with us or if the first person who speaks up wins season tickets to the socially distanced Dodgers. The lovely Glenn Close boiled a bunny and took a knife to Anne Archer in Fatal Attraction, but it was Barbara Hershey who popped the cap in Redford in The Natural. I don’t know why I’m defending Glenn Close. Also, I haven’t had coffee yet.

  5. Love your sports columns because even as a woman, we’re able to vicariously live amazing games through husbands and sons that played. Our autumn ritual was the L.A.Coliseum reveling in USC games. From my Dad starting the Tradition , to my youngest son being on the team during the Pete Carroll years. (He has five rings, two of them National Championship, a Rose Bowl PAC -Ten, they are huge!) I have been privileged to walk on the hallowed ground of two great sports venues, the Rose Bowl and the Coliseum. You are so right that sports bind families and boys should learn their way around a toolbox. Chris, you are the all-around Dad!

  6. Thank you, he was! Still very proud of him, Captain in the Marines, he and his wife expecting a baby girl in September! Let’s see more pictures of your Little Princess!

  7. I remember when my youngest grandson started t-ball, maybe he was 5 or 6 years old, it was like going to a comedian club every week, so much fun& laughs, good memories.

  8. Once a sportswriter, always a Cub fan. Once a Cub fan, always in love with baseball. In love with baseball, and you end up a coach. End up a coach, and you end up coaching your son. End up coaching your son in baseball, and you end up lyrically driven to express yourself about it, hence a sportswriter. How circular it all seems, like rounding the base paths of the years. And paradoxically, the more sensitive you are, the more you deviate from the diamond: it’s called “wandering the base paths” rather than running straight down the route after a smacking a long ball. You hear the crowd roar, the cry of the peanut guy, the smell of the mustard…that’s you, Chi’s. Someone who recognizes that the game of baseball is so much more than the game. Lovely, that. And now he’s graduated. Play ball !

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