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baseball game

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By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

Long ago, back when my son was shorter than I, and when he listened to more of what I said, I was driving him and his teammate back from a baseball game that was more than an hour away from our house.

Those were the days when such long rides were part of our weekend routine, as we packed athletic gear, food, paper towels and flip-flops into the car to enable our children to compete against other children from distant towns or neighboring states, while also taking off their cleats and running into a deli to use the bathroom.

I don’t recall the details of the game because, even then, my son played in so many of them that the entire montage of memories blurs into a collection of highs, lows and everything in between.

Halfway home, we were the first car to stop at a red light. When another car pulled up next to us, we recognized the father of one of my son’s teammates.

Looking straight ahead, the father was screaming at the top of his lungs. My son and his teammate, who usually filled the car with nonstop commentary about the game, school, weekend plans and anything else that came to mind, were stunned into silence.

The three of us shifted our heads and saw his son sitting in the front seat with his head down, absorbing the ongoing verbal blows from his father, who had started gesticulating and was so frustrated that he spit on the windshield as he shouted.

During the entire red light, the father excoriated his son. As we drove away, my son’s teammate shared his memories of the game, pointing out that the boy in the other car had made a key error and struck out late in a close game.

METRO photo

After our next game, my son and I got in the car, and I had a chance to look at us more closely in the metaphorical mirror.

No, I wasn’t screaming at him. No, I didn’t spit on the window. The pattern I noticed, however, was one in which my son — when he was alone with me — focused only on the things that went wrong. He lamented everything he did wrong or didn’t do right. Sometimes, I recalled, I piled on, telling him how he could or should have done something differently.

As I tried to get a few words in after that game, he cut me off. He continued to criticize his performance until he was too exhausted to speak, at which point he urged me to talk.

I didn’t want to review the game. I wanted to discuss our interactions.

After considerable back and forth, I set new ground rules not for coach/player interactions, but for father/son discussions, particularly as they pertained to sports.

I never wanted to discuss whatever he thought went wrong in a game first. I wanted to begin with everything he did well. That could include positioning, fouling off a tough pitch, supporting his teammates, calling for a ball — even one that he dropped — and having a long at bat.

Then, we discussed what could have gone better. He threw the ball to the right base, but the throw was too low. He was fooled on a high pitch at the end of an at bat.

The first game after our discussion, he started off by criticizing himself. But then, something remarkable happened: he remembered our last discussion, and we started with everything he did well. Those first few moments built a positive foundation around which to start making improvements.

In future games, he started to focus on ways to perform well, even after he had struck out or had made a mistake. Instead of focusing on the ways he might have let himself or the team down, he wanted the opportunity to help.

Baseball game Pixabay photo

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

I was born in March, so, of course, I wished I were born in the summer.

My brothers were both born in the heat of the summer, which means they could go to a warm beach on their birthdays, sail across some waterway around Long Island, and celebrate the passage of another year without a midterm on their big day or, even worse, the day after their birthday.

But, the real reason I wished my birthday came during the summer was so that I could attend a Yankees game.

When my birthday rolled around, pitchers and catchers were often reporting to spring training, getting ready for the marathon of each baseball season.

When my son was born in July, sandwiched between a host of other family birthdays on both sides of the family, I figured he would have the chance to pursue the kind of unfulfilled baseball fantasy that I could only imagine as I was memorizing facts, figures and formulas for another set of tests before, during and immediately after my annual rite of passage.

Recently, we celebrated his birthday by going to one of the last few Yankees games before the All-Star break. 

We had the privilege of attending a weekend game, when neither of us felt the need to work or meet a deadline.

My son is taking a summer course for which he was supposed to have a virtual test the day before we went to a game. The computer system crashed that day, and the professor suggested everyone take it the next day.

The system, however, continued not to work, perhaps obeying a secret wish my son made over his customized birthday cake, giving him the opportunity to enjoy the entire day with little to no responsibility other than to reply to all the well wishers and to compliment them on their melodic singing.

The game itself became a blowout early, as the Yankees scored run after run, and the Red Sox seemed to retreat to the safety of the dugout soon after coming up to bat.

Both of us ate more than we normally do in a day, celebrating the outing and reveling in the moment, high-fiving each other and the reveling strangers in Yankees jerseys in front of us.

While the packed stadium started to clear out when the game seemed out of reach for the visitors, we remained in our seats until the last pitch, soaking up the sun, predicting the outcomes of each pitcher-hitter match up and observing the small games-within-a-game that comes from watching the defense change its positioning for each hitter.

It still confounds me that a team could leave the third base line completely open, shift all the infielders towards right field, and still, the hitter won’t push the ball in a place where he could get a single or double. After all, if they heeded the advice of Hall of Famer Willie Keeler who suggested they “hit it where they ain’t,” these batters could get a hit, raise their batting average and contribute to a rally just by pushing the ball to a huge expanse of open and unprotected grass in fair territory.

Amid the many relaxing and enjoyable moments of connection with my son, he shared that he kind of wished he had born in the winter. After all, he said, he loves hockey and always imagined going to an NHL game on his birthday.

I suppose the grass is always greener, even on your birthday.

To be fair, though, he did add that wasn’t a genuine wish, as he was thrilled to attend baseball games on his actual birthday, and he was pleased that, in every other year, he didn’t have to worry about exams.

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It was the battle of the Bulls May 17 when cross town rivals Smithtown East (No. 4) hosted Smithtown West (No. 5) in the opening round of the Suffolk Conference II in Class AA playoff game. East edged West, 7-2.

It was a complete performance from the mound from James Ackerman who threw a complete game in the victory to advance to the next round where they faced Connetquot May 18. 

In double elimination play, Smithtown West lived to fight another day where they squared off against Bellport. Both games were held Wednesday, May 18, at 4 p.m. The results were not available at press time.