"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Country Ball

By Ben Belth

“Bring the wiffle-ball bat,” I say to my son, Luke, but he wants the aluminum one. “Let’s bring a few tennis balls,” I say. He shakes his head. He wants the hard balls. I admire his courage, but I take a few tennis balls anyway.

When we lived in the city, we would walk a block to the park, find a quiet corner and take BP. He always insisted on running bases, a tree for first, a hat for second and his mitt for third. “He’s like a Boarder Collie, run him out,” our family counselor Ronda tells me. “He needs it to regulate his emotions.”

We live in the country now, and there’s no park down the block. Our yard is too small, so we get in the car and drive to the school field. But it’s Sunday and the soccer leagues are in full blossom. Kids in orange or green jerseys swarm on the field. The parking lots are crowded with parents and expensive cars. We don’t know any of them yet. There’s no room for us.

We go to each ball field in town and find the same scene. Luke’s getting sleepy in the backseat (when he feels out of place: he dozes). So I take him down to the park by the river – a long stretch of landfill on the other side of the Metro North tracks. It’s dotted with families, mostly Latino. There’s plenty of room for us.

“What if I hit the ball in the river?” Luke asks. I give him a wink. He’s good, got a natural lefty swing, but he’s not that good. He slashes the ball to all fields but rarely hits it in the air. I’m not worried about the river.

We start in with the hardballs. “Baseball is a hard game,” I say. He tips the ball, fouls another, and misses a lot. “Underhand,” he says. He gets into one but it’s off the end of the bat and the vibrations unnerve him. He drops the bat and runs to me in a sobby bundle. His hands hurt but it’s more than that.

“I quit. I wanna go home.” he tells me. I repeat it, like Ronda taught me, “You wanna go home.” He looks directly at me. “No I wanna go home. Where my friends are. Where we can walk to the park and where I used to hit home runs.” I nod. “You miss the city,” I say. He falls into my chest, letting it all out.

I want to tell him everything will get better, that he’ll meet new friends, and that next year, he’ll be playing soccer with all the other kids. He’ll find his spot and this will start to feel like home soon enough. But he’s only seven-years-old. So instead I bring out the tennis ball and urge him back to the bat, which is not easy because I just want to keep hugging him. “That’s coddling”, Ronda says, “It makes you feel better, not him.”

“Bat up,” I say. “Plant that back leg.” He follows the directions.

“Coming overhand,” I say and let one go. He drills it, right back to me. A smile breaks across his face. I take a few steps back and throw another pitch, this one with a little more heat. He fouls it straight back. “Got another one,” I say, holding up the hardball. I let it go and he pounds it into the ground, the foul side of first base, but nice. It hits a stone, veers right, pops over a rock, and disappears into the Hudson.

I look back at him, my eyes wide. I’m silly happy but he doesn’t notice. He’s too busy running the bases.


1 Alex Belth   ~  Oct 19, 2011 1:17 pm

Awesome story, man. Luke is lucky to have such a great dad.

2 Greg G   ~  Oct 19, 2011 1:29 pm

You are a great Dad, Ben! Starting over somewhere new is hard, but in time he will learn to love his new home. Take care!

3 thelarmis   ~  Oct 19, 2011 1:37 pm

this was wonderful!

so glad to have the belth brothers writing here!!! : )

4 Alex Belth   ~  Oct 19, 2011 1:41 pm

Our dad did his best but he was so troubled when we were kids that he fell down a lot as a father. I can't tell you how amazing it is to see the kind of father my bro is, it's really special.

5 Normando   ~  Oct 19, 2011 1:41 pm

Wonderful story, and your writing connects -- I feel both your and your son's pain and joy.

I always tell my son when he's struggling with something, "you can hit a round ball with a round bat, and everyone knows that's the hardest thing to do in sports." That usually picks him up, no matter what the task at hand is.

Your writing is a very nice addition to this place. You Belths are talented MFs.

6 Dimelo   ~  Oct 19, 2011 1:43 pm

Love the picture.

7 Alex Belth   ~  Oct 19, 2011 1:50 pm

The writing is passed down from our paternal grandfather who wrote for the Brooklyn Eagle at one point. And was also an editor there briefly, too. He later was the head of public relations for the ADL for 25 years and wrote a book called "A Promise to Keep," which was about the history of Antisemitism in America. He didn't write personal essays but that's where the gene comes from I suppose.

8 thelarmis   ~  Oct 19, 2011 1:55 pm

[4] i've got a similar situation in my fam. hopefully, one day, i get a chance to be a dad. i won't fall down on that amazing job!!!

9 Jon DeRosa   ~  Oct 19, 2011 2:00 pm

Used to drive around looking for ballfields with my dad in northern NJ. Best times to go were very early or just before it started getting dark. A little colder, but not crowded. My issue was that my local field had an open outfield and there was little else in the world more important to me than clearing the fence.

10 bernicebelth   ~  Oct 19, 2011 2:05 pm

Nice Ben. Nice writing and just nice.

11 Ben   ~  Oct 19, 2011 2:10 pm

Hey thanks for the support everyone. Most of what I've learned about writing I've learned here, just being a reader. No Offense Grandpa!

12 Ben   ~  Oct 19, 2011 2:11 pm

Greg G. How ya doin' overdehr?!

13 Chyll Will   ~  Oct 19, 2011 2:14 pm

Great story, Ben. Takes me back to when we moved up from North Tarrytown to Wappingers Falls. A hard adjustment to make even if they are both suburbs of the same city; just that one is further flung and more suburby than the other. I came to organized baseball late as a kid and made an immediate impact in my Little League, but I was never really encouraged to stay with it, then was stopped short by medical issues. It's so different seeing things as a child as opposed to an adult, but I don't think I could have changed anything if I did think the same way I do now back then. But if nothing else, I would encourage any child to stick with it; there's actually more to baseball than just drinking beer and eating fried... uh, I mean hitting, catching, throwing and occasionally running, or as Charlie would say, winning... >;)

14 edoubletrouble   ~  Oct 19, 2011 2:14 pm

big ups to the Belths!

15 kstallbe   ~  Oct 19, 2011 2:17 pm

Ben, that piece would make Todd Drew proud. Thanks for sharing.

16 Alex Belth   ~  Oct 19, 2011 2:19 pm

15) Oh, yeah, Todd would have loved this.

17 ms october   ~  Oct 19, 2011 2:32 pm

thanks for sharing this ben - this was very touching.

my dad used to take my brother and me to hit bp and practice fielding when we were little. the ball fields were always empty - i mean no one was there, we would have the field for hours to ourselves. for the most part i loved it, but my poor brother hated it. he never liked playing baseball. my dad made him bat left-handed and he got hit a lot when he was young and he wasn't good at fielding balls that took bad bounces. an experience like this can teach you perseverance or failure - how the parent responds is so important to it building perseverance rather than failure.

18 Yankee Mama   ~  Oct 19, 2011 2:44 pm

Nice piece! Your process as a parent is stunning. He is lucky to have you as his dad. I could feel your love. My 9 year old daughter said to me the other day that she felt so lucky to be loved. And she is. I was loved, but it was much more complicated.

Baseball was always weaved into the fabric of my life, playing with my brother in Central Park, with my uncles in the country, and eventually varsity softball back in CP. Those were great memories. Luke will always remember.

19 glennstout   ~  Oct 19, 2011 4:02 pm

For suburban/country backyards, toss the wiffle bat and use the wiffle ball with a hard ball bat, and when they start to crack, slap on the black electrician's tape (or do it from the start, which gives it some heft). The ball still won't carry more than 100 feet and you won't mess up your swing.

20 Alex Belth   ~  Oct 19, 2011 4:11 pm

When Ben and I were kids we used to play serious games of whiffle ball where it was mandatory to imitate batting stances correctly. We played four teams: Yanks, Angels (cause of Reggie), Mets and Cubs (we got WGN). We would tape the bottom of the whiffle ball bat and the "barrel" with black electrical tape as well as half of the ball, enough to give the ball some weight but not enough to cut all of the whiffle.

21 Greg G   ~  Oct 19, 2011 4:18 pm

(12) Ben- Doing really well thanks! I have 2 boys. Nolan will be two in January and Brian just turned 8 weeks.

I have lots of anxiety about sports and my sons. I was a horrible athlete. My Dad drank quite a bit when I was growing up. I remember playing catch in the backyard and if I didn't hit him in the mitt with the ball, I had to chase it down from the neighbor's yard. You would think this would've made me have pinpoint control, but I ended up quitting on catch after 5 minutes. My Dad did the best he could, like we all do, and I can only blame myself for being a quitter.

I am ok at football, a joke to watch in basketball, but I am a semi-pro ping ponger. And baseball was my personal house of horrors. It is surprising that I am such a fan of watching it, considering my baseball prowess.

Ben, When I read your story, it makes me realize that there are going to be lots of times when I will have to make hard choices and always keep my son's interests before my own.

I hope I do it as well as you Ben!


22 Vermonter   ~  Oct 19, 2011 4:31 pm

Congratulations, Ben, on your new home. May it be a source of joy and peace to you and your family.

Great writing,great parenting!

Deanna Shapiro

23 Mike Fox   ~  Oct 19, 2011 9:33 pm

Nice writing, Benbo. Kid's are a wonder, ain't they. I'm glad your enjoying being a Dad. I don't know who Ronda is, but if were you I'd keep following your own instincts. Forgive me, but when a little kid needs a reassuring hug, he needs a reassuring hug not an exercise in lifemanship.

24 Rich Lederer   ~  Oct 19, 2011 10:20 pm

"He’s too busy running the bases."

Loved the last sentence. Well done. Thanks.

25 dcw   ~  Oct 19, 2011 11:05 pm

That's wonderful. I read your post the other day, glad to see it was more than just a guest spot!

My wife and I just had our first. It's a great feeling, but the thing I'm most excited/nervous about are moments like this. Excited about experiencing them, nervous about not recognizing them when they come.

26 NYYfan22   ~  Oct 20, 2011 12:48 am

Luke and my boy JJ are a lot alike. He'll be 8 in April. Awesome story.

27 Ken Arneson   ~  Oct 20, 2011 2:14 am

Very nice story. Reminds me of when I was kid of 13, and I moved to a place (Sweden) where baseball didn't even exist. Man, that was a rough period. Not just the baseballlessness, but new friends, new school, new culture, new language...it was very overwhelming. I had the homesickness for the good old USA real bad.

Tell you what, though, even though I never really got over the homesickness, and I ended up moving back to America, I'm a better, stronger person now for having been thrown out of my comfort zone like that. I'm more willing to take a big risk.

And now, my three kids have lived in the same house all their lives. Sometimes I worry I'm making their lives too safe and stable, that they would benefit with a little time outside their comfort zones, too.

28 Alex Belth   ~  Oct 20, 2011 8:37 am

27) Interesting. Made me think of something I read recently, an interview with Tobias Wolff in the Paris Review:



You’re just back from ten months in Rome. Why were you there?


I had no immediate reason for going. It wasn’t to do research. I speak some Italian, but living in a country where I can’t be completely aware of what people are saying around me puts this sort of bubble around the head, in which, for a time, not indefinitely, I find I’m able to work with more than the usual concentration and joy. I like not having a car, living in the center of a city where you can walk everywhere. All the errands that seem to consume one’s life become very few, and you find yourself with great stretches of time for reading, wandering, and yes, working. It was a good place to live for ten months, and I was dying to come home at the end of it. I finished the book I was writing and began to wonder why I was there, and when I begin to wonder why I’m somewhere, I know it’s time to come home, because I actually like being surrounded by my own language and knowing what’s going on around me. But it’s good for a while to be dropped through the bottom, to be a little helpless, to have to scramble to make do, because as you get older, you do less and less of that, and it’s good for you, it takes the rust off.


So living abroad is in some way inspirational?


Not in the sense that I’ll necessarily write about the place I’m in—we spent a year in both Berlin and Mexico and I still haven’t set anything there. But just the breaking out, the newness of things, the having to struggle a bit, all that is bracing.

29 Ben   ~  Oct 20, 2011 8:41 am

27. Damned if you do, or don't. Safety vs. adventure. Comfort vs. life lesson. I have no idea which side of the divide to fall on most times. I just try to stay aware of the tension between the two and muddle through. For my daughter a hug is usually enough to set her right. She recharges and steams ahead. Luke is different. Often a hug alone will make matters worse. A firm guide through an experience is usually more what he needs. Few words. Actions. Accomplishments.

I can relate to needing both.

Thanks again for all the support everyone. Especially to AB, who put this piece up with so much encouragement.

30 samiebelth   ~  Oct 27, 2011 7:57 pm

OY - took me this long to get re-registered so I could make a comment. I loved your piece Ben, and loved reading it up here. I can see the whole thing so clearly! You are great.

31 ealemole   ~  Oct 31, 2011 8:52 am

Loved your story, Ben. And I love the thought and care you put into parenting...

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver