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The Guy Chronicles

Kids Sprint the Bases, as Mom and Dad Cover Home

May 10, 2000|CHRIS ERSKINE

Scenes from a Sunday afternoon.

"Dad, I need a prom dress," my lovely and patient older daughter tells me.

"Well, you're talking to the right person," I say.

I know a lot about prom dresses. I know they tend to be long at the bottom and too thin on top. I'm pretty sure Cinderella started it all. The tramp.

I know that, if dads designed prom dresses, they would look like the dresses Queen Elizabeth wears. Thick. Frumpy. Very British.

If dads designed them, prom dresses would be a little more sensible. They'd be square and functional as washing machines.

"I like your dress," one girl would say.

"It's a Westinghouse," the girl would answer.

"Mine's a Maytag," the first girl would say.

"Nice," her friend would say.

If dads designed prom dresses,

they'd be made of metal. Like jail cells.

*

We are at the batting cage--one of baseball's many branch offices--where fathers like me desperately cling to our children's youth.

"Good swing," I tell the little red-haired girl.

"Thanks, Dad," she says.

"Loosen your shoulders a little," I say.

"Sure, Dad," she says.

She is like a little Viking child, eager to club things, hungry for combat.

Except her swing is a little stiff. Most of the time, she swings like Eric Karros, "career .281" stamped across her forehead.

"How's that, Dad?" the little girl asks, bouncing one into the net.

"Awesome," I say.

In the next cage stands her brother. He hits every pitch into an imaginary upper deck. Each swing is a solid thwack that warms my heart and makes me feel like a male lion.

Thwack. Thwack. Thwack.

"How's that, Dad?" the boy asks proudly.

"Keep your head still," I say.

Lost on them is the irony of taking batting tips from a lifelong Cubs fan. If they knew better, they would listen to what I have to say and then do the opposite.

But they are young ballplayers, trusting and a little naive.

Thwack.

"How's that?" asks the little girl.

"Bend your knees," I tell her.

"OK," she says, crouching down like Bagwell. I stand to the side of the netting, watching them hit, giving them tips. Once, when the boy swings late, the ball rifles into the netting and catches me sharp on the side of the ankle.

Fortunately, the ball nails an acupuncture point in my ankle, which quickly numbs my left leg and the right side of my face.

No one notices that I have been acupunctured by a ball, except when I try to drink my Coke. Half-sips trickle down my shirt. And I fall over sideways.

"You OK, Dad?" the boy asks.

"Never better," I half say.

Thwack.

*

In the third quarter, the Lakers are up by 10. Then by 16. Then all the subs are playing. Game, set, match.

When the Lakers are hot like this, it's like watching the Harlem Globetrotters trounce the Generals. I keep waiting for Meadowlark to show up and throw a bucket of confetti on the Phoenix bench.

"I think the Jello's a-jigglin'," the boy says.

"No, that's just John Salley," I explain.

All of a sudden, what happened up in Sacramento is a distant memory. The burning of the Laker jersey. The Laker meltdown in Games 3 and 4, in front of those frenzied Sacramento fans in their Kmart jeans.

Now, against Phoenix, it seems almost too easy again. The Lakers are up by 20. Then 26.

"Remember what happened in Sacramento!" I yell at the TV.

The dog looks at me worriedly. I think he's waiting for Meadowlark to show up and throw confetti on me.

"Remember Sacramento," I tell him softly.

*

"I have 26 bucks for a Mother's Day gift," the boy says.

"That's terrific," I say.

Yesterday, the boy didn't even know Mother's Day was approaching. I dropped the idea casually, wondering how he'd react.

"You know, Mother's Day is coming up," I told him in the car.

"Today?" he asked.

"No, next week," I said.

"Oh," he said, quickly losing interest.

So I didn't say anything more. I just planted the seed, hoping that it would somehow take root.

"Twenty-six bucks," he announces the next day.

"What?"

"I have 26 bucks for a Mother's Day gift," he says.

"That's terrific," I say.

For 20 minutes, he scours the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog for just the right gift for his mother. A beach chair. A battery powered chain saw. A remote controlled indoor turbo blimp.

"So what are you going to get her?" I finally ask.

"Dodger tickets," he says.

"Really?"

"Two," he explains. "For her and me. Right behind the backstop."

Say hello to May, sweet season for mothers and baseball and the boys who play them both.

"Hey, Mom, guess what!" he yells, running off to dazzle her with news of their Dodger date.

"Hey, Dad, I still need a prom dress!" my older daughter yells from the other room.

Happy Mother's Day.

*

Chris Erskine's column is published on Wednesdays. His e-mail address is chris.erskine@latimes.com.

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