Monday, December 3, 2012
As a father, guarding your child’s heart has to be the hardest mission of all to accomplish, despite many of those difficult missions having involved late night cleanup sessions of vomit in the bed, diaper blowouts all over the baby carrier, times where a floating turd in the bathtub makes a better toy than the actual bath time toys, solemn conversations about dying pets, and convincing them that sharing a room with their baby brother is only temporary when you know it’s not anything close to that.
To my knowledge, Kacie has never had her heartbroken, although I thought we were once going to come disastrously close.
She was five.
We were in the car, driving from Somewhere to Someplace, listening to the local sports radio station. This was at a time in her life where car rides were probably our best chance at quality time. We could talk about anything, everything, or nothing of significance and never run out of things to say.
That day Kacie heard the news guy talking about her favorite baseball player, Hank Blalock. She shushed me, wanting to absorb every word this stranger had to offer, perhaps hoping, no doubt, that he’d even mention her name as his biggest fan.
While the commercials played a few seconds later, Kacie sat in the backseat, confined by her thoughts and the car seat she’d long felt she no longer needed. I turned the radio down, positioned the rearview mirror so we could make eye contact, and asked if she was alright.
She didn’t answer.
She wouldn’t even look at me. Instead, she stared out the rear passenger window, trying to work something out in her mind.
Stopped at a traffic light, I turned to face Kacie, tapping her left knee to break her trance. She looked at me, still confused from what she’d just heard.
I asked again.
“Daddy,” she said, “what’s traded mean?”
I found myself in one of those moments where there was no right answer, just the least wrong one.
“Traded means that the Texas Rangers might send him to a different team in exchange for some of that team’s players.”
She gave my words considerable thought.
“So he might not play for the Rangers anymore?”
Kacie began to gasp for air, not in the way one would before they are pulled underneath the water by a lake monster, but in a way one might who’s just been punched in the stomach and doesn’t remember that breathing is a series of simple repetitions of in through the nose, out through the mouth. Crocodile tears welled up in her eyes. Again she shifted her attention away from me, damming the corners of her eyes with the palms of her hands.
I’m not sure how long the light had been green, but the impatient sound of horns honking around me signaled that it’d been too long. I adjusted the rearview mirror again, my eyes shifting back and forth between the road ahead of me and my daughter behind me.
The trade never happened.
But today, though, Kacie won’t be so lucky. Mike Napoli, her current favorite Texas Ranger, has opted to sign as a free agent with the Boston Red Sox.
What makes today harder, I fear, is that in the last decade since that conversation, Kacie has learned to appreciate baseball players for more than just their cool tattoos, awkward batting stances, powerful homerun swings, and cool last names. Okay, maybe the cool last name thing remains, but the other traits have been replaced by how cute the player is, not to be outdone by how good his butt looks in his tight baseball pants.
Not to be overshadowed by posters and magazine clippings of The Avengers, there’s an assortment of Napoli paraphernalia strung throughout Kacie’s room. Jerseys with his name and number twenty-five are draped over her bedposts. T-shirts of similar designs are buried in the pile of clothes in her floor. Drawstring backpacks made to look like the back of his jersey hang from a knob of her closet door. Dog tags are pinned to the wall. Some girls prefer to dream of vampires and werewolves. Kacie prefers heroes, both of the super variety and of the post season. She gets that from me.
I wonder, though, how she’ll handle this break-up – her first “It’s not you, it’s me.”
Losing your favorite baseball player from your favorite baseball team is serious business. Despite what any rational thinking person might say, it is very much like saying goodbye to the love of your life. You’ve invested so much time and energy into that person. You’ve winced as they struck out with runners in scoring position to end the game, celebrated as deep fly balls barely managed to escape the field of play to put your team on top, and crossed your fingers and said a prayer as they’ve prepared to throw the ball to first base to make the twenty-seventh out. The thought of never getting to be a part of that person again is heartbreaking. Every time you see them from this moment on, it’ll be like they’re dating your best friend, which in this case is true because Kacie’s best friend’s favorite team is the Boston Red Sox.
You’ll still see them from time to time, but things will be different; different is the only way we think it can be. On the outside, you won’t even give them the time of day, but on the inside, you’ll be rooting for them because letting go is harder than you anticipated.
Somewhere between her tears and my binge eating, I’ll tell Kacie of the silver lining that awaits her: Spring Training is closer today that it was yesterday. It’s there, possibly, that her new love awaits her. I will encourage my daughter to try again, and give her the “It’s better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all” speech. Do I mean this in real life? Hell no. But this is baseball we’re talking about. Baseball is better than real life. Baseball can’t give you a STD, can’t get you pregnant. Baseball won’t try to convince you to drop out of college and run away with him to some hippie commune where bathing is optional. But more than anything, baseball, even after you graduate law school, find your one true love after years of celibate searching, get married, buy a house in the suburbs, and finally decide to have children, will still be there, waiting to be shared with your dad, the only man who will ever promise to love you unconditionally.
I don’t know if Kacie will buy any of that crap. Probably not. I’ll let you know how it goes.