I grew up in a different time. Kids walked, rode their bikes, or took the bus to get around. Parents weren't entertainment directors, calling our friends' parents to set appointments for playing together. We went outside to play with nothing more in the way of parental participation than an admonishment to come home when the street lights went on.
That's right, young readers; we played outside for hours on end without any parental involvement.
Because of this independence, organized sports weren't such a big deal. I had a few friends who played baseball on a Little League team, but that was about the extent of it. And when they did, it didn't require their entire family to be sucked into the activity.
I didn't get much in the way of encouragement to participate in any sort of extracurricular activity. In fact, when I expressed an interest in playing football in high school, I had to secure my own rides home from practice since the car pool we were part of operated immediately after school. I don't think my dad ever came to a game during the season I warmed a bench.
There is a reason for this stroll down Memory Lane: My, how things have changed.
I flew to
this week to help celebrate my friend Amy's birthday. It's not a zero-year birthday or anything special beyond the birthday itself, but I knew the party would be epic. And, I am always on board for an epic party. Florida
Both of Amy's daughters are on traveling softball teams. Amy's husband coaches the younger daughter's team. For the uninitiated, "travel ball" is a cult-like activity requiring huge swaths of a family's time and enough bags of cash to make Scrooge McDuck catch his breath.
A typical travel ball schedule consists of one or two nights of practice per week punctuated by marathon weekend tournaments that often begin on Friday and can last -- depending on a team's success -- into Sunday night. This doesn't include the occasional fund-raising activity or team meeting.
"Travel" is a relative term. It just means that the team isn't anchored to a specific set of fields as "recreational" teams are. Travel may just mean driving across town to whatever fields are hosting the weekend's bracket of games. However, it can also mean the team overnighting somewhere 100 miles or more from home. This, of course, means entire families making the trip, paying for hotel rooms and meals. Cha-ching.
Through all of this a parent's responsibility includes running their kid to the various practices and games, as well as populating the stands to show their support for the team. Many weekend meals consist of junk dispensed by the concession stands at the ball fields.
Usually, I try to avoid visiting
South Florida during the travel-ball season, or seasons, really, because there seems to be more than one season per year.
Despite Amy's younger daughter being my official Goddaughter and the older one being my unofficial Goddaughter, I have no desire to spend two days and change on a ball field. I draw the line at a game or so per day per kid.
I planned this particular trip to
some time ago and didn't bother to double check that there would be no softball -- a serious oversight to be sure. Florida
The tournament in question involved the younger daughter's team. She is an accomplished pitcher, who usually strikes out more than half the batters she faces. Pretty good for a ten-and-under pitcher. I marvel at the speed and accuracy of these lady pitchers who heave a ball underhanded and manage to get it into the strike zone.
I guess because of it being the Fourth of July week, the tournament began on Friday morning. I avoided Friday's games. They had an game that could have morphed into a string of games throughout the day. Losing that first game, though, put them into a second game at . Losing that one as well, the team went into the "losers" bracket and a game schedule that didn't resume until Saturday at .
I avoided going to that game as well. After yet another loss, the family returned home to rest and rejuvenate before the next game at . Did I mention that the tournament was on a field about 45 minutes away?
Even knowing that a win at that game would entail sitting through another game at , I attended the game. Because of tie-breakers and such, games can begin as much as an hour later than scheduled as the day wears on and on and on. This was the case here. The game began around .
Winning that game, they went to another field for the game that didn't begin until about . It was the second loss of the day, the fourth of the tournament and the last one. Had they won that last game, they might have played as many as five games on Sunday to make it to the finals and sixth game of the day: All taking place in 95-degree temperatures and 98-percent humidity. Are you kidding me?
Saturday finally ended around .
So, you can see why I call this religion-like devotion Cultball. Can't begin to picture my father in its grip.