Maybe a year ago, Alex was looking at family photo albums and said: “Jack used to smile so much more when he was little.”
Then this past weekend, I heard Alex’s best friend, Aidan, refer to Jack as: “The man who never smiles.”
Here’s a pretty typical shot of Jack from a bike trip with my brother’s family:
And I’m struggling through this reality.
I don’t think he’s unhappy. About once a week, we go for a “Peanut Chew Walk” (3 for $1!) to a small grocery store about a mile from the house. I check in and see how he’s feeling about life. He has friends. He likes school all right. He has fun with his family.
But still sometimes he’s like a ghost in the house. He slides through silently and sits in his room going through baseball rosters. He’s truly a creature of solitude, and unlike me or Alex, or even Shani, he doesn’t crave attention. He actively stays under the radar in the social pecking order at school.
And he does smile sometimes. Tickle him and he smiles. Or a few weeks ago I saw a helicopter overhead and without thinking about it, I said to him: “That thing is lower than my sack.” Jack and I looked at each other for a moment and then we laughed uncontrollably for five minutes.
The baseball playoffs kicked off Tuesday night with the Yankees vs Twins, winner-take-all game. It’s been a magical year for the Yankees, full of fresh faces and unexpected success. As they were announcing the players before the game started, I found myself beaming. I genuinely love this team in a way I haven’t loved a team for years.* I snuck a look over at Jack:
My boy was smiling ear to ear.
And then that game — oh man. The Twins scored 3 runs right away. Before the Yankees even got to bat they were behind. It was the worst possible start; Jack rushed upstairs (he later admitted it was to cry).
But then just as quickly, the Yankees struck back. Didi Gregorius hit a 3-run homer to tie it up. Jack and I went bananas – stomping, hugging, screaming — I yelled so loud for so long I thought I was about to black out.
The next 4 innings were baseball at its best. Each team threatening and scratching together runs and outs. It went back and forth. Twins lead 4-3. Yanks tie it 4-4. Yanks pull ahead 5-4. Watching it was a tense, high-wire affair. It is an emotion that baseball creates and no other sport can touch.
Then Aaron Judge was up. The Aaron Judge who will win Rookie of the Year unanimously. Who has broken the record for home runs in a season by a rookie. Who is the largest position player in the history of baseball. In fact, the very same Aaron Judge that Jack is doing a presentation about in his public speaking class next week. Oh yes, that Aaron Judge came up to bat with a man on first base.
“I sure could use two more runs for a little breathing room,” I said to Jack.
Like he’s done all year, Judge buried one in the stands. Alex and Shani were in bed at this point so Jack and fist-pumped and kicked and frolicked and flopped around on the floor, but we did it all in silence.
The tension was broken. The Yankees had the game in hand and rode the rest in cruise control.
Baseball (and sports) is about the dumbest thing in the world. It is absurd to place your personal hopes and life happiness in the hands of people you don’t know and who don’t even know you exist. It is the exact opposite of how I live my life.
But at the same time, it brings such intense, shared joy to me and my son.
So if you say sports if stupid — I agree. But man, oh, man do I want to see the Yankees go deep into this year’s playoffs. I know Jack feels the same way.
*Note — coming soon will be a post about the 10 (or so) reasons to love the 2017 Yankees. This will come when they are eliminated (or win the World Series). So hopefully it won’t come for a while.