It's the bottom of the ninth. Full count, two outs and the bases are loaded. I could win the game with one accurate swing. The weight of the world is on my 10-year-old shoulders.
But standing there, staring into the pitcher's eyes, I'm not thinking about the fact that I could win or lose a big game for my team. I'm too worried about after the game -- and mom and dad sitting on opposite sides of the bleachers, their gaze cast down on me like white-hot spotlights.
When the game ends, win or lose, which parent will I go to first?
It might seem like a small-potatoes dilemma for a white suburban child of divorce. But awkward baseball games -- and all the divorce politics that come with them -- are some of my most vivid memories, mostly because they were the most stressful events of my young life. I mean, I could win a baseball game any time, but I had the emotional scarring and heart-breaking of two sets of parents to worry about.
Indeed, baseball games had so little to do with baseball, and so much to do with the divorce. It was as if two warring factions were meeting on the battlefield, and their tactics involved one-upping each other with better juice boxes at post-game snack time. My affection was the spoil of war.
They had their tactics, and I had mine. I took mental note of how many breaks I took with each parent, how many high fives I doled out and at what volume I called step-mom, "Mom." If I was on the mound, I made grinning glances at each of up to four parents between pitches. Seventh-inning stretch involved sitting and talking with each group for such precisely equal amounts of time, it made our supposedly "equal" visitation schedule look like it was organized by, well, children.
I'm not saying I had horrible parents. On the contrary -- both sets molded me into the all-around bad ass I am today. Sure, there were times when one parent would put me in the middle of an argument that wasn't mine to have. But overall my folks had no idea what stress-induced havoc they were wreaking on my young brain.
The awkward baseball game is a prime example of where divorced parents can go very right or horribly wrong with their children. I know that most divorce kids, like me, think about their parents' feelings way more than is readily apparent. I would try not to offend anyone, which weighed on me so heavily it would often bring me to tears.
And that's why the best divorced parent is the one who can see how hard it is for their kids to worry about such frivolous things. The best parent is the one who cares so much about their child that they don't care where the kid sits; one that will love their kid just the same even if he sits with the "other" parent at a thousand seventh-inning stretches.
The best parent is the one who can see that I'm not super excited about my game-winning shot to left-center. My dad approaches the field -- the first parent to see me after my big game -- and pulls a move that should be in every divorced parent's handbook.
"Awesome game, Andy, you kicked butt out there," he says with a smile. "Go say hi to your mother -- I'll be around if you wanna play catch before you go. If not, no problem, we'll play catch on Thursday."
Thanks, pops. Weight lifted.