Column: Girls will be girls (but you better play ball)

By JASON RECKER

The fourth quarter meant nothing to those of us who did not have relatives on the field. It was cold enough to shiver. Rarely when teams from Jasper and Mount Vernon engage in an athletic competition does anyone percolate with exhilaration.

Yet my 7-year-old daughter would not budge.

She sat in the bleachers near the 20-yard line, watching in awe the final snaps of a football game in which our team had administered a 42-14 dismissal. She wanted to make sure her first live football game ended well. There was popcorn and candy and a marching band and a mob of students draped in school spirit. She was having a blast.

For a father of three girls, it was an I-told-you-so moment.

It is a presumption that every father’s life will be ruined if he and his spouse do not produce offspring that exits the womb ready for his first career touchdown run. My emotional and professional dependency on sports only advances the stereotype. People ask my wife and me if we’ll have more children as if I’m willing to populate the world with estrogen for the sake of just one dose of manhood. They don’t say it, but I’m thinking they think I need something else in that house of mine besides ponytails. Gotta have somebody to wrestle in the backyard, they whisper. Can’t put a girl at strong safety, they advise.

We are done having children.

Girls 3, Boys 0.

I’m just fine with the shutout.

Besides, how many of your preschool sons can correctly identify Tony Cruz as the St. Louis Cardinals’ backup catcher? My 5-year-old daughter is all over it. She’ll also tell you that if the Cardinals lead in the eighth inning, Carlos Martinez probably will enter the game to pitch. If he holds the lead, she knows Trevor Rosenthal will take the ninth. Jon Jay is not playing center field, Halle. Then Shane Robinson is. Pete Kozma? Shortstop. But Daniel Descalso plays there, too. She requests to be quizzed. At the dinner table, we review roster changes.

Their upbringing has included some brainwashing that some might classify as a step beyond mild. But when it comes to sports, my girls most often go there on their own.

Whitney, the 7-year-old mesmerized by football, has twice this week begged me to help her practice basketball. We exchange bounce passes and chest passes and she dribbles around obstacles, willingly determined to bounce with her left hand as effectively as she does with her right. We work on defense because if she shoots like her father, she’ll need it.

“Get low,” I tell her. “Hands out. Where are you looking?”

“Your stomach,” she answers.

“Why?” I prod.

“You can’t fake me out with your belly button,” she replies.

I pick up my dribble and search for a passing lane. I lift the ball to shoot.

“Now what?” I ask.

She raises a hand, steps toward me, spins and pushes her backside into my legs.

“Contest the shot. Block out. Go get it.” I instruct before leaning to whisper in her ear. “Don’t say this out loud, but when you block out, think to yourself, ”˜It’s my ball. Go get the damn ball.’”

Her mother, a former three-sport high school athlete who spends occasional NCAA Tournament moments screaming at the TV and is willing to forgo episodes of “Revenge” to watch parts of the World Series, agrees with the spirit of the command if not the language.

Whitney laughs. But she remembers what I said. A month ago, after she got knocked around during a youth soccer match, we got home and she was miffed. For 30 minutes, I skipped soccer balls off her shinguards as she nudged me away, a shoulder dipped into my side, in pursuit of the ball. She knows it’s OK to play angry.

Their experience may never carry beyond the obligatory youth sports dabbling and maybe one day they’ll wish dad wasn’t so wrapped up in situational left-handed relief pitchers and more effective zone offenses. Dad doesn’t push. The Rubbermaid graveyard of baby dolls is proof that girls will be girls. If they end up ditching sports, fine with me. For now, they gravitate toward games, and we’re all having fun.

We listen to baseball on the radio. They don’t protest. College basketball is appointment TV. They skip Nickelodeon. I say it’s time to get ready for bed. They ask to hit the volleyball in the basement. Our youngest daughter, almost 2, knows the umpires’ hand signal for home run and although she won’t say the word “Cardinals,” she will pump her fist in celebration if you do.

I don’t dream of raising daughters freakishly bent on athletics. But that Friday night date with Whitney to Jerry Brewer Alumni Stadium was something I’ll never forget. She sat on my lap, I explained a few rules and as we walked to the car hand in hand, she thanked me for taking her. Minutes later, we opened the front door to find Halle asleep on the couch with a baseball playoff game still on the TV.

Whitney asked to go to a football game for a birthday gift. Halle wanted to watch the Cardinals get to the, as she calls it, “World Serious.”

Sure, it’s kind of a bummer that my branch of the family tree has little chance of extending my surname. But I can live with that. My children will never have to wear a cup. I’m OK with that, too.

Jason Recker is an editor at The Herald. The lullaby of choice in his home is “Take Me Out To The Ballgame.” His email at jrecker@dcherald.com.




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