Can’t remember the last time I’ve been to a professional ballpark. No shade. The hot dogs have long been established as carcinogens. And the games can sometimes trudge along for up to three hours. Who’s got that sort of time? I have all daughters that had an immediate disdain for most things sports. So, my life is saturated with dance competitions, musical theater performances, voice recitals. They can sometimes trudge along too, but they’re all air-conditioned.
And yet, despite my unresolved break up with the game at about sixteen, when The Cather in the Rye, and A Farewell to Arms made men in caps and knickers seem trivial, the baseball analogy for just about everything has never left me. A therapist might suggest that I still harbor deep unresolved emotions for the game. Whatever the reasoning, baseball still clutters my speech. Time is still measured in bottoms and tops of innings. Tight, uncertain situations are usually a full count. And you can always find some jerk who’s crowding the plate and needs to be brushed back a bit. Baseball is somehow still everywhere.
Obviously, each school year is a season. The number of school days and baseball games per year are not too far apart. These days though, I’m the manager. My new classes are prospects for the upcoming year. And some of them show real potential. State testing? Yup. The postseason. They’re green, but I’ll have them ready. Look for us come playoffs.
And if my school year is a baseball season, then the summer program I teach at the local community college is the offseason. I’m scouting triple-A ball players, looking for new talent. I can’t take them with me. Can’t sign them to a contract. But, if I’m paying attention, I might find some hidden talent. Kids that have maybe slipped through the cracks a bit. Kids moving along below their ability. This is the place to find them.
Summer classes are low key. Filter gets lowered a bit. The risk for kids is manageable. Mistakes made here won’t likely follow you into the new school year. So, with a little nuance, you might get them to put just a bit more on the line. And maybe that will carry over into their big leagues.
From the first day, I can see that Anne is a strong writer. Even before I read a word of anything she writes, I can tell by the manic way her pencil races over the page that those words are fueled by inspiration. A need to be heard. She slams that pencil into the paper each time, almost stabbing it. She writes dark because words matter to her. And no mundane topic escapes her wrath. She’s got something to say and here it comes.
But Anne never volunteers to read anything in class. For someone who so clearly needs to be heard, she is suspiciously quiet. I try to coax her once or twice, but she won’t budge. I hear her outside talk to a few newly made friends. She talks. I wait for the right moment.
“Anne, why won’t you read your writing to the class?” She shakes her head firmly. “But your writing is better than anybody else’s in this room. It would be a great help if kids could hear what good writing is supposed to sound like.” Again with the firm head shake. “Why not?”
“Because of my lisp.”
“But you have a great lisp,” I say not missing a beat. “I’m not sure why you would want to hide it.” She laughs nervously.
“Uhm, there’s no such thing as a great lisp,” she informs me. I give her this incredulous look as if she has no idea what she is talking about.
“What do you mean? How has no one told you this before?” She looks stunned. I keep going. “Your lisp sits in what researchers call the lisp sweet spot.”
“What the heck is that?”
“It is when a person’s lisp is minor enough where you can clearly understand every word they say, but it is just enough to make their voice memorable.” She just stares at me. I let her soak it in for a moment or two.
“That’s a sweet lisp. And it needs to be heard more often. And your writing might even be more impressive than your lisp. So. There you have it. Consider it fact.”
The next day Anne’s hand is up. She is ready to read. She starts and I stop her after just the first sentence. There is no way some prepubescent jerk is going to ruin this moment for anybody. I immediately draw the attention to her writing.
“Listen to how Anne starts with interesting dialogue to engage her reader. That’s exactly what I’ve been talking about. Anne read that opening exchange one more time.” She does so again. This time with more force. “Perfect. That’s the kind of thing we all need to be doing. Go ahead and finish Anne. Thank you.” She does. Every day she does. Every day she reads her words with the same passion and purpose she uses to write them.
She’s a prospect with real potential this season. I hope to find a few more before the dog days of August are behind me. And if it works out perhaps they’ll take their newly discovered skills up to show. Maybe this is the year they truly play ball.
For more inspiring classroom stories, please check out Mr. Bowen’s recent bestseller, Our Kids: Building Relationships in the Classroom.