Friday, March 4, 2011

Leading By Example In Fort Myers

As most spring training games move past the third or fourth inning, the younger and unproven ballplayers enter the game and the fans put their feet up. It's the middle of the magical six-week period when major-leaguers teach the young prospects how to be a professional. Kirby Puckett taught Torii Hunter, and Torii taught Denard Span. Now Denard teaches Ben Revere and Aaron Hicks. They'll talk strategy in the dugouts and behavior in the restaurants, though mostly the older pros will lead by example. Sometimes Denard tells Ben Revere to throw the ball with more authority, but it won't sink in until he watches the starting center fielder fire one from the track to nab a guy at third. Showing is better than telling, and teaching kids is the same way.

I get paid money to hang out with an 8-year-old kid. He supposedly has special needs, but he doesn't have any needs that any other 8-year-old doesn't. Basically, we just do fun stuff and I teach him proper behavior by modeling it. He learns by observing. One day we decided to go sledding at a small hill in south Minneapolis. I love sledding, or as non-Minnesotans call it, sliding, but I haven't properly dressed for the activity since I was 13 years old. At some point in our late adolescence, most of us forget how to dress for the cold winter. We outgrow bib-style snowpants and decide changing from boots to shoes at school in the morning is not cool. Wearing tennis shoes when it's negative ten fahrenheit is cool.

But tennis shoes were never good for sledding. So I was particularly excited to hit the slopes because I again had a pair of proper boots. My buddy had purchased them at a thrift store and then immediately forgot them at my house, so I claimed them as my own. They probably hadn't been worn in a couple decades, though they were everything a boot should be - comfortable, bargain-priced, smelly, and stylish in a 1970's kind of way - like a Chinese restaurant. My girlfriend's cats even liked them.

We parked on Bryant, just across the street from the hill. The kid got out to grab the sleds from the trunk while I sat in the drivers seat and pulled on my boots. But when I stuck my left leg in the boot, I felt something on the underside of my foot. It was small and soft, like a ball of leaves or scrap of fabric. My foot came out and my hand went in to explore. I grabbed it. I pulled it out. I watched as my fist opened and revealed a small, furry, dehydrated, balled-up dead mouse.

It's moments like these - unexpected, shocking, disgusting - that a man's soul is truly revealed. He has no time to calculate the situation and cover his inner thoughts. It's just pure reaction.

I freaked out. I screamed like a girl and jumped out of the seat as the mouse flew from my hand. I got out of the car wearing just socks, but I couldn't feel the cold pavement on my feet. I was shaking and screaming. The people and kids probably thought I'd lit myself on fire. This was no way to behave in public.

The kid understood completely. He didn't say a word as he climbed into the car, found the dead mouse, picked it up by its tail and tossed it into a snowy lawn.

I thought I was going to be the teacher that day, but the kid ended up showing me appropriate behavior. Hopefully, learning about baseball is a two-way street in Fort Myers as well. Maybe next time Scott Baker is afraid to pitch inside, he'll remember watching the fearless Kyle Gibson in March. When Aaron Hicks doesn't complain about the fences, hopefully Justin Morneau will notice and just hit. And maybe next time I'll react more appropriately when I find a dead mouse in my boot.


Maija said...

Awesome post.

bizmarkie507 said...

youre good at writing, you should do a bunch of these and make a short stories book. every page a different story. 80 pages long. It might take a few years but books are supposed to take a significant amount of time to write.

haasertime said...

Thanks. I just don't feel like writing often enough to produce a functioning blog, let alone a book. I have to be poked and prodded. I'll ask my girlfriend to do that tonight.

linda said...

That was great!