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Man of the House: Let's hear it for the little guy

Baseball's opening day, model car racing — nothing adult on the agenda.

March 12, 2011|Chris Erskine

Youth baseball's opening day is like a cocktail party without cocktails, four hours of schmoozing and "Hi, how ya beens?" on a giant field filled with kids. I can't prove this, but at one point I'm pretty sure that time actually stood still. The sun quit moving in the sky. Human digestion stopped. Cells quit replicating. Grass stopped growing. I looked around and saw other parents taking note: "What is this, some kind of purgatory?" their expressions all said.

Yes.

That's not to say that opening day wasn't a roaring success, for it was. By the time it was over — and it did eventually end — the little guy's face was like an archeological dig: ketchup here, mustard there, a chunk of cheese on his chin. "Yes, someone once lived here and lived very well," the experts would say after studying his face.

And our team photos were taken on time, the bellwether for any opening day. Our 8-year-olds looked great in their bright, Caltrans-orange uniforms. When you get them together in one big orange blob, our little players look like they're ready to work off some sort of court-ordered sentence — clean an on-ramp, spike some litter. But they're happy as bear cubs, and that's what's important.

"Is it Christmas yet?" the little guy asked.

Not quite but almost. First, we have this spring to deal with. St. Pat's is upon us, the clouds twirling in the sky like Irish brides. Anybody know a good recipe involving shamrocks? What do I do with 14 boxes of Girl Scout cookies? Add rum? Stir?

Forget basketball. The real madness of March is found in the family calendar gridlocked with activities like this opening day. It's all too much, really. I'm thinking of calling for a national day of rest and relaxation. No rallies. No cakes. No nothin'.

Some families I know are already selectively pruning their obligations. A couple of them, for example, totally blew off the Pinewood Derby contest.

Showing no such courage, we chose to participate in Pinewood Derby, a longtime tradition in which kids and fathers carve little blocks of wood into tiny racecars.

What are you paying for gas, $4? Well, Pinewood Derby owners pay nothing. The vehicles are propelled by mere gravity, which is what should propel all cars. I mean, how many gas crises will this nation endure before it turns its automotive industry over to the Cub Scouts of America?

"That's a good idea, Dad," the little guy says when I tell him this.

"Nobody listens to me," I say.

"Huh?" he asks.

In our pack's Pinewood Derby contest, we finished an impressive 14th out of 14 cars. Not bad. The little guy and I concentrated on appearance over performance, only to discover that there was no award for appearance. For better or worse, I've lived a life based mostly on false assumptions.

Anyway, if you think opening day was exciting, you should've been at the Pinewood Derby, which went on for three days and involved 44,000 heats. Fortunately, someone sent out for pizza or we'd all be dead.

Entering the Pinewood Derby is like walking into a Harry Potter movie. The hall is a majestic place — in its off hours a church — and entire tornadoes of children's screams bounce off the beamed ceilings.

"We're a little behind," a sorceress warns as we enter.

"That's fine," I lie and go off to take a nap.

Now, by "a little behind," I guess I just assumed she meant three or four hours, but it was really much quicker than that. An hour after our assigned start time, we're placing the cars on the track and getting ready to rumble.

In Pinewood Derby, all the cars get a chance to race all the different lanes, which accounts for the thousands of rounds of "heats." If it seems like an enormous commitment of manpower, it is. The only thing close is the Panama Canal. Or maybe Las Vegas.

Fortunately, there were trophies for everyone, if by trophies you mean ribbons. The little guy was very philosophical about his 14th-place finish, acknowledging that his car's design was a hit with many of the other kids, who said, "Hey, cool car" to him over and over again.

That kind of emotional nourishment doesn't come on a stick, if you know what I'm saying. No, you have to earn that. The little guy and I spent hours at the workbench together, sanding and painting. Four coats, five coats, we wanted the best finish ever. I ended up attending the Oscars with black enamel in my cuticles, which was perfect because people always mistake me for a vampire anyway.

So, yeah, we're happy with our 14th-place finish. Without humbling moments, how would we ever improve?

Next year, I've got my eye on a little Lamborghini powered by the breath of God, and a hybrid power boost (just in case).

Is Detroit watching? America better hope so.

chris.erskine@latimes.com

Twitter: @erskinetimes

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