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In February It's a Whole New Ballgame

February 07, 2001|CHRIS ERSKINE

It's Saturday in the suburbs--a place that can be glorious on the outside and a little hollow on the inside, at least if you believe some of the talk--and I am being kissed awake by a big blond dog with bladder problems.

Usually, I am not so easily charmed. But I love this dog, I really do. Plus, he has one of his sharp paws right atop my appendix. If he twists his paw, he is likely to remove my appendix right there on the bed. And that's no way to start a Saturday. I have baseball tryouts in four hours.



"Want to buy some Girl Scout cookies?" the little girl asks from the side of the bed.

"Maybe later," I say.

Most years, I try to sleep through February. Once, I made it all the way to the second week before my wife entered the bedroom like a crazy PTA president and waved a grapefruit knife right over the bed, threatening me and my appendix and all the things I hold dear.

You see, February belongs to the women. They come at us clutching their chore lists and their grapefruit knives, Girl Scout cookie forms and plans for new drapes. They come at us with everything they have. After five months of football, February is payback time.

"Did you call that contractor?" my wife asks.

"Of course."

"What did he say?"

"It's February," I say.


"His wife was chasing him around with a list," I say.

She doesn't laugh. Not even a little. So I drink her coffee and begin some chores, making a lot of noise in the garage like I'm really doing something, when really all I'm doing is bouncing a tennis ball off the washing machine and loosening up my arm for softball tryouts later in the day.

"What are you doing?" she asks.

"Loosening up my arm," I say.

"What for?"

"So I can wash the cars," I say.

I wash the cars. It's only 9 a.m. and I'm washing two cars, trying to build up some spousal goodwill early in the day.

In the past, I've found that if you don't start the day by seeking some spousal goodwill, then ill will takes its place. It's the fluid mechanics of a modern marriage.

So I finish the cars, then head off for a soccer game, then across town to the softball tryouts, driving too fast because if I get there late they'll give the team I'm supposed to coach to someone else--some investment banker with a nicer house, who played a little college ball and thinks he's Joe Torre. It's really my worst nightmare.

"You made it," Coach Bob says, sounding a little disappointed.

"I think I broke the sound barrier," I say.

"Glad you made it," he lies.

The big issue at this year's draft seems to be who will get to draft Abby and Amanda.

Abby and Amanda are the Paul and Dizzy Dean of little girl softball, a mighty and talented sibling combo. Not only are they swift of foot and strong of arm, they're a lot of fun at pizza parties and stuff like that.

Believe me, the coach who drafts Abby and Amanda will have an epic season.

"Who's getting the twins?" another coach asks.

"Me, I hope," I say.

"Me, too," someone else says.

It's a question whispered among coaches and small clusters of parents.


Before the tryouts are over, friendships will be jeopardized, money will change hands and offers of marriage will be made to Abby and Amanda's mom, who's pretty cute to begin with.

"What position do you see them playing?" their mother will ask any prospective coach-groom.

"Pitcher mostly," the coach-groom will say. "And first base."

"OK, then," Abby and Amanda's mother will say.

Out on the field, meanwhile, the tiny players come out one at a time to be judged by the coaches, all of whom have gained at least five pounds since last season. Me, probably 10 pounds. Bob, at least 15.

Great judges of talent, these coaches. I know for a fact that half of us cannot bend down to tie a shoe without grunting.

"OK, this is No. 31," the league commissioner announces, welcoming another tryout participant.

"What's your name?"


"What position do you usually play?"

"Outfield," Taylor says, and eight coaches mark this on their sheets, like it's the most important stat they've ever heard.

One by one, the girls answer the questions, then trot out to shortstop for a few grounders and a few pop-ups that hop from their stiff new gloves like scared puppies.

"Good job, Taylor!" someone yells from the sidelines.

"Good job, Kaitlin!" someone else yells.

It's a beautiful day, a freak summer day in early February with the temperature in the 80s and pollen splashing the air like $2 perfume. It's a festive day, a suburban picnic. Along the edges of the field, parents relax in the grass, sunning their winter skin.

And the tryouts go well. There are about 50 girls here this afternoon, so it takes only about 14 hours.

"OK, this is No. 36," the commissioner announces.

"What's your name?"


"Where do you usually play?"

Molly pauses.

"Where do you usually play, honey?"

"Over at my friend Sarah's house," the little girl says.

On their tryout sheets, eight coaches mark it down.


Chris Erskine's column is published on Wednesdays. His e-mail address is

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