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May 23, 2013

Out of Left Field

Watching Baseball with a 4-Year-Old

by Matthew Kory

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Woman: I’m so bored.
Man: Me too. I wish there was some way we could derive significance from our meaningless sex-filled lives.
Spokesman: [appears] Now you can! With “Children!”
Man and Woman together: [confused] Children?
Spokesman: That’s right! Children! Children are you, but smaller, slower, and almost impossibly incompetent! Act now and you’ll experience the miracle of life on a daily basis! With “Children” it won’t take long before you’re asking yourself, “Hey! Where’d my meaningless life go? And can I have it back?”

 * * *

There are times when I want to be left alone. That probably doesn’t make me a crazy freak. Over roughly three decades I grew accustomed to watching baseball games in a certain way. I scrutinize the pitcher, dissect the hitter’s swing, over-criticize the announcers, generally over-do every little aspect, all without saying a word, or I just sit back and viscerally root for my team. Now I have two 4-year-olds, so all that is generally impossible.

At their shortest, baseball games take two-plus hours, which isn’t long in theory, but when young children are concerned, two minutes of quiet uninterrupted time can be too much to ask for. That doesn’t mean watching baseball is over for me though. In a way, fatherhood is like sabermetrics. It forces you to look at previously static things in a new way. Now baseball is a new experience, of course for my son, but also for me.

One of my sons has taken an interest in the game. He wears a slightly oversized baseball hat I bought for him and sits next to me for up to a half inning at a time. That might not seem like much, but unless toy trains are involved, my kids have short attention spans. Being 4, he has to ask questions and ask questions and ask questions about those questions. A typical conversation between he and I will follow a “statement,” “agreement,” “why statement?” format. For example:

Him: That truck is black, daddy.
Me: Yes, it is.
Him: Why is it black, daddy?

To me, the format can be an odd way to go about acquiring information, but I’ve gotten used to it. If nothing else the constant questions force me to think about the millions of things that I know intrinsically but that hover just below my subconscious. I don’t have to think, “That truck is black,” and I don’t have to answer “Why is that truck black?” partly because I don’t much care about the answers, but mostly because my mind, seeing so many different things at once, has to triage. One can’t drive a car with full concentration and ponder the reasons why some trucks are one color over another. Also, there are so many vehicles on the road that you’d never get anywhere. But my kids don’t see it that way. They are full of questions about every aspect of life. Everything, they assume, has a reason for being the way it is and their father (me) knows all the answers. To find the answers all they need to do is ask, and they do. It’s cute and wonderful in a way, but it makes concentrating on the intricacies of anything difficult. This goes for driving and watching a baseball game.

We all probably have vague memories of when baseball was new to us, but seeing my son try to grasp the rules, the vocabulary, and the emotions of the game is fascinating. I’ve tried to put myself in his place. Imagine looking at the baseball field, except you don’t know what any of it is. The bases may as well be bags that someone left in the middle of a playground. Maybe they are! The crowd yells at random intervals, so does your Dad, the ball gets hit and it doesn’t matter, and then the ball gets hit and it’s amazing and everyone jumps up and down. Why? Or, as my son would say, “Why, daddy, why why why why why why?”

Watching a baseball game with a 4-year-old is what the pause button was invented for. Unfortunately, I hate watching games on delay. So I pay attention when I can and miss what I miss because fatherhood requires it.

My original idea for this piece was to transcribe conversations between my son and I over the nine innings of a game. I may yet do that, but now it’s an impossibility. There are too many breaks for anything approaching continuity. There are breaks for the bathroom, to fight with his brother, to run in circles, to play with toy cars, to play with toy trains, to use the bathroom again, to demand juice, to demand crackers, to drag his dad into his room to show me his blocks, to demand I read him a book, to use the bathroom again, and on and on. That is only a partial list. So instead, I’m offering a list of disconnected conversations and quotations, which gives a better feel for what it’s like to watch a game with a 4-year-old.

* * *

“Batting is so hard.”
“Yes, it is.”
“Why is batting so hard?”

* * *

“Is that third base?”

* * *

“Why he just caught it, daddy? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?”

* * *

“He hit the ball into the audience!”

* * *

In the fourth inning:
“Is the game over?”
“But I see they’re moving.”

* * *

“He only has one ear piece. Why?”
“He has only one ear.”
[quiet] “Nooo! Ha, you’re silly, daddy.”

* * *

“Daddy, this is my bear. He has a pumpkin. Pumpkins are yummy. He can’t play baseball. I want to play with my trains now.”

 * * *

“Bleah bleah bleah-blu-blu-blu-bleah!”

* * *

“Dad, I want it to be over.”

* * *

About the sideline reporter:
“What is that lady doing?”
“She’s talking.”
“I… don’t know…?”

* * *

“Daddy, where are his clothes?”

* * *

“Why the catcher always catches?”

* * *

“What are those black things on his [the batter’s] rosy cheeks?”
“That’s eye-black.”
“Does it hurt?”
“Maybe if you get it in your eyes.”
“Where else do you put it?”

 * * *

There are two dialogues that stand out as far as making me think through something I might otherwise not are the following. One is this:

“Why did they take the pitcher out?”
“Because he’s tired.”
“His arm is too weak?”

I answered quickly, but then I thought, is that true? In essence, probably not. I gave an easy answer, but often pitchers are taken out for other reasons, like ineffectiveness, injury, platoon splits, pitch count, or the manager plain doesn't like the cut of his jib. In fact, most pitchers probably get taken out for reasons that have nothing to do with their arms beyond more complicated matters like release point, arm angle and the like. I'm not sure I'd ever put that thought into words in my head before. The other was the one about batting being hard, this one:

“Batting is so hard.”
“Yes, it is.”
“Why is batting so hard?”

How do you answer this one? I think I fell back on "Because it is," which has been passed back to me on other topics. ("Why is your yogurt on the floor?" "Because it is.") Still, the real answer is so much more complex because batting is complex. That's essentially the reason I love it. It requires so many skills and all at such a high level, it would be difficult to explain to a 4-year-old, but thinking through what those skills are (hand-eye coordination, strength, body control, balance) makes batting sound impossible. In the end "hard" is probably a better thing to tell a 4-year-old than "almost impossible."

Soon enough he’ll grasp the rules. He’ll understand them as a backbone to a greater understanding of the sport. The basic questions will stop and the odd questions (fish skeletons?) will dissipate. Like many things in life, even though they can be frustrating, I’ll miss them when they go. It’s a stage of his life that he’ll only go through once and it’s a charming one. We’d all do well to ask more questions and then carefully consider the answers. And for me, answering them forces me to think through everyday issues. It’s good mental exercise, and as a person with 4-year-olds, I need all the exercise I can get.

Sure would be nice to get a second’s quiet time though.

Matthew Kory is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Matthew's other articles. You can contact Matthew by clicking here

Related Content:  Boston Red Sox

26 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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My four year old successfully sat through most of seven innings at Oriole Park last Friday. He plays T-ball, knows where the bases are and what they're for. His favorite player is Jaaay. Jaaay. Haaarrdyyy! And he definitely knows that you boo whenever a Yankee or a Red Sock comes up to bat. I'm a lucky Dad.

May 23, 2013 06:36 AM
rating: 7
BP staff member Matt Kory
BP staff

Well done. Except for the booing Red Sox part. That part is wrong!

May 23, 2013 13:47 PM

They talk less if you feed them more. I want to see a breakdown of various food choices in terms of getting peace and quiet. Ice cream helmet sundae is surprisingly over-rated since the kid becomes a sticky bomb afterward. Nachos on the other hand take a blissfully long time to get through. Peanuts are great too.

May 23, 2013 07:12 AM
rating: 2

My kids are now adults in their 20s, but when they were little it helped keep them from getting too twitchy as the game dragged on for there to be a reward coming. So the 7th inning became when they could get chocolate malts (the old frozen Carnation ones...it was the 80s at Candlestick & the Oakland Coliseum, before fancy ballpark foods). They'd of course get a hot dog before or early in the game, and maybe something like peanuts around the 4th or 5th, but it was that 7th inning malt they hung in there for.

Now they joke about that when the 7th inning rolls along, but follow the joke with "want a beer?" Just one of many reasons why adult kids are a the best reward for whatever you go through raising them.

May 23, 2013 09:42 AM
rating: 3

Oh how I remember those old Carnation chocolate malts at the Coliseum. Definitely a treat for me as a kid.

May 24, 2013 12:08 PM
rating: 1

Beer is especially effective at silencing the younger crowd, and typically more cost-effective than in its application toward the adult population.

May 23, 2013 13:34 PM
rating: 3
BP staff member Matt Kory
BP staff

I haven't taken them to a game yet so I have no insight there, but it's on the agenda for this summer so maybe I'll write about something like that this fall.

May 23, 2013 13:51 PM
Kendall Guillemette

Yes. Yes. and YES. I've run into this with my 3 yr old. He loves baseball and asks questions that I haven't thought about, probably since I was 3.

My favorite was when we went to Opening Night at Safeco this season (as promised after enjoying games last year), we sat in the left field bleachers. He was sitting on my lap with his glove on his hand... punching the glove. And he stopped, looked up at me and asked, "Papa, why aren't they throwing it to me?"

My heart melted as I saw the confusion and disappointment on his face. "We're just here to watch. You and I can play catch tomorrow". That was a sufficient answer for him.

May 23, 2013 08:42 AM
rating: 8
BP staff member Matt Kory
BP staff

That's great! I love that he was three and brought his glove.

May 23, 2013 13:52 PM

I try to refrain from telling "Kids Say The Darndest Things" stories, but there's one I just can't resist telling.

Led Zep "Kashmir" comes on the radio in the minivan and I crank it up, play air drums on the steering wheel, sing along, rockin' out, etc. A pathetic scene, to say the least. Anyways, the song ends and there's a conspicuous silence in the back of the minivan. I turn and ask, "Did you like that song?"

After a couple seconds, my 5-yr-old daughter says, "It makes me stare at something... so yeah, I guess I liked it."

May 23, 2013 09:07 AM
rating: 3

The first paragraph alone was worth the price of admission. As a father and now a grandfather I loved the whole thing actually.

May 23, 2013 10:00 AM
rating: 2
BP staff member Matt Kory
BP staff


May 23, 2013 11:08 AM
Andy Cochrane

I took my son to football (soccer) game when he was nearly 6. After about 5 minutes he started asking how long there was left. Then again every 10 minutes until the end almost 2 hours later.
There is NO way he would sit through a live 3+hour baseball game!

May 23, 2013 10:26 AM
rating: -1
BP staff member Matt Kory
BP staff

It's tough. I think it depends on the kid. Some are more interested than others. A friend of mine has a six-year-old son who he has taken to multiple Phillies games. But my kids are (so far!) not that way. I'm lucky if I get a half inning of attention.

May 23, 2013 11:08 AM
Bob Stocking

That's because there are quantum leaps your boys will make between 4 and 6. Happy Father's Day, Matt. This is a great piece.

Jun 15, 2013 15:01 PM
rating: 1

LOVED IT!! Way to go, Matthew!

May 23, 2013 10:58 AM
rating: 0
BP staff member Matt Kory
BP staff


May 23, 2013 11:06 AM
Dave Scott

After being selfish for a couple innings, I realized going to a baseball game, for a child, is mostly about special time with Dad. We all had more fun after that.About 25 years later, they are taking me to games.

May 23, 2013 11:26 AM
rating: 4

This---go to answer any questions, and chaperone their wanderings. Much better; and they will settle down. Eventually.

May 23, 2013 12:05 PM
rating: 0

Wonderful article. My daughter is only one, but I remember one of the first times she watched (part of) a game with me. July 24, last summer (thanks, Retrosheet!), the Jays were playing the Athletics. Derek Norris hit a two-run homer against the hometown nine, and she immediately began to cry and scream. A beautiful bonding moment.

May 23, 2013 13:04 PM
rating: 1
BP staff member Matt Kory
BP staff

Thanks, R.A.!

That's another insight I can't provide, namely the difference between taking little girls and little boys to games. A friend of mine has a four-year-old girl and she can sit still for things. My two boys can barely handle sitting in the car seat on the way to the store. But maybe that isn't anything to do with gender, I don't know.

May 23, 2013 13:54 PM

I don't think it's necessarily gender-specific. My 4-year old boy can sit pretty quietly for a while if he is actively engaged in something that he enjoys. But you certainly struck a chord with the "why" questions. My favorite from the other day:

--What's that, Daddy?
--That's a [transmission] tower.
--Why is it a tower?

Thanks for the great article and enjoy your 4-year olds!

May 23, 2013 15:23 PM
rating: 2

Just a note: it should be "between him and me" not "him and I"

May 23, 2013 15:34 PM
rating: -1


May 23, 2013 17:40 PM
rating: 1

My son, a t-ball player, yesterday came out with this exchange:

"Foul Ball! Foul....Ball?"
"Yeah, He hit it, but it went backward. You have to the ball forward."
"Baseball is complicated."

(an hour later, mommy is home.)

"Mommy, baseball is complicated. You have to hit the ball when it's moving, and you have to hit it FORWARD!"

May 24, 2013 05:52 AM
rating: 1

As the father of a 13, 10, and yes a 4 year old myself, I can totally relate with this. Been relating for years, in fact, as I answer questions like "What does AVG spell?" Mine is currently fascinated at how much Alfonso Soriano spits.

One of my top 3 favorites I've read here the past couple of years. Well done!

May 29, 2013 09:31 AM
rating: 1
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