By Nizhooni Hurd | Illustration by Jubilee Hernandez
“I fucking hate baseball!” Kid T is not having it. It’s dumb, he claims, and he just wants to go to the skate park. So we say O.K., you can skate, but we’ll be over here. I ask him if he has ever even played baseball and the only answer I get is that he hates watching it because it’s just too slow.
Shortly after we bundle the babies in blankets and get the Tupac playing, all the big people spread out onto the field. The game begins, and lo and behold Kid T (and his attitude) throws his skateboard on the ground and picks up a bat.
“Oh, so you’re playing with us now?”
“Yeah … I guess,” he says.
Then the next reluctant skater kid (let’s call him Kid C) joins our team as well.
In the end, my team consisted of the two strongest men and all the kids who didn’t even know how to play. Some of the boys didn’t even know how to stand at home plate to bat. For most of the game I played umpire for both teams, calling the balls and fouls and making sure it was fair. There was the educational component, too, such as when Kid T stood backwards to bat and we paused the game to walk him through every step of the action.
“Nah man, stand this way, O.K. now put your feet here. O.K. now your elbow should be right about … here.”
Then the game proceeded. As we got into our flow, the laughter and the cheering all increased along with the playful throwing of gloves. It was awesome.
It was exciting to realize that the kids were convinced. Not that pro-skaters won’t continue to be curated (as in driving them across town to go to the skate park), but the laughter, music and community we held drew them in to try something new. To challenge their body in a new way. To step away from the familiar into the unfamiliar. I was so proud of the boys. It was a small but courageous act to try a new sport.
Foster care is a scary thing, and it’s scary in a way that a teenage boy’s vulnerability also exists in the unknown. Similar to a pandemic, but more amplified, operating within a system leaves an uncertainty of time and familiarity. Every moment holds the potential to have impact. A simple thing, like a family baseball game, is a step into the world of unfamiliarity that takes courage. Baseball has a lot of unfamiliar movements for the body; maybe there were some snickers and giggles. Ultimately, there is redirection and encouragement because the big people know it’s something new. Every moment turns into a teachable moment. It’s all character building, and new sports and activities have a certain way of constructing one’s inner and outer courage.
Foster care in the midst of a pandemic is no joke. Sometimes it seems like a joke, because when family life crashes and children are removed from their homes and placed into new ones, a pandemic and not being able to play like a “normal” kid both become infuriating situations which can solicit awkward, deeply bothered humor and “boredom.”
Children are not unmoved or unaffected by any of the things that happen in their lives. There is something special about getting active within this little community of ours, because we can actively engage and build rapport. There are bonds created between the catcher, the pitcher, and all the ones who got to walk the bases. Trust is delivered for reception. The mind and body are active and fluid. Within this little community of ours, there are little bits of freedom for young men to just be boys and learn to be the best versions of themselves that they can be.