My son Jonesy has a little plastic baseball he won at Chuck E. Cheese that we take to the park all the time. We’ve thrown it around plenty. I’ll shape my hands into a mitt or hold out my actual glove and say “put it right in Dad’s hands buddy, as hard as you can.” I couldn’t help but notice that the kid could hurry it up but good into Dad’s hands. Now as much I wanted to start imagining Jonesy on the mound at Citi Field (or Fenway; or PNC Park; or Tropicana Field; I’m not picky, honest) even I, who judges baseball to be the greatest thing in the whole wide world, slowed down enough to down enough to say to myself “well, he’s my son, so naturally I think he throws hard.” But now we’re hearing from his physical therapist at school that he has a very strong throwing arm– a left-handed throwing arm.
The physical therapist at Jonesy’s school is a perfectly nice woman and very good at what she does. That’s why I feel a bit bad that the rest of my family will now blame her for what she’s unleashed.
To answer the question I have been asked by nearly everyone in one form or another since these findings were reported on my wife’s Facebook page,no I am not staring at the phone waiting for the Mets to call (or the Red Sox; or the Padres; or Diamondbacks; again, any team will be just fine, really). But regardless of my love for baseball, I now have a positive obligation as a parent to at least introduce my son to a sport which will allow his physical talent to find expression and baseball is as good a one as any. And obviously somebody’s kids make it to the Majors. so maybe it will be my kid.
In honor of both that possibility and this October 21st, 2013, the state occasion of my son Jones Patrick Lilly’s fourth birthday, I will lay out for the record my hopes and sage counsel for Jonesy Lilly, future ace left-hander for some Major League ballclub.
Important stuff first, son.
I hope you don’t throw a curveball until you’re eighteen at the youngest. Your arm will still be growing all through high school and I don’t want you anywhere near Tommy John surgery if you can help it. You can by not even thinking about throwing a breaking pitch until you’re in college. Before then, a fastball and change-up will be plenty.
I hope even when you’re a ten-year veteran they’ll still be teaching the wise words of Ray Miller, a pitching coach for the Pirates back before you were even an idea to your mother and me: work quickly, change speeds, throw strikes. It’s good advice for any pitcher, regardless of his natural ability.
Your coaches and mangers will teach you that you need to pitch inside to win and they’ll be as right then as they are now. You don’t want hitters going up there feeling comfortable and the only way they won’t be comfortable is if you give them a reason not to be. I just hope you’ll know that there’s a way to do that without coming up near anybody’s head.
Even more important stuff next boyo.
You’ll be perfectly free to sign with any team you like when you become a free agent. There’s nothing wrong with that. No matter who you play for, you’ll have the right to sign for as much money as some owner is willing to pay you and that’s as it should be. I just hope you remember to be very grateful: God will have blessed you with a gift that allows you to be paid millions to play a game. Remember also that it wasn’t always this way. There was a time when the owners would have had you at their mercy. A lot of players, some you’ve heard of, some you haven’t, did an awful lot of work to get you the sweet deal you’ll have and the nicest thing they were called was un-American. You might be a millionaire, but you’ll still a union man. It runs in the family, going back to your great-grandfather’s organizing days.
And before you make any decisions about where you sign when you hit free agency, just remember that if you, my daughter-in-law, and my grandchildren are happy where you are and the organization is treating you right, that’s worth something.
No matter how many Cy Youngs you win or how many World Series you pitch in, I hope you still go speechless when old Tom Seaver totters into the clubhouse (I bet he’ll look great pushing 100) and that you still smile at all the memories conjured up for you when you look up at David Wright’s retired number 5 that should be hanging up on the wall at Citi Field by the time you’re in the bigs. You’re part of a story that began long before you and will continue long after you. I hope I and your grandfathers and uncles and everyone you learned the game from did a a decent job teaching you about what came before. I remember hearing once about a poll of active Major Leaguers that showed that some pathetically small percentage of players knew who Jackie Robinson was. I don’t remember what the exact number was. I just remember wondering how in the bloody hell it wasn’t 100. If I have my way, you’ll know exactly who Jackie Robinson was and who Gil Hodges was and who Hank Aaron was and…well you get the idea. Or will have when I’m through.
I hope you find yourself a good catcher and that you two stay together on the same team for a long long while. Seaver and Grote. Carlton and McCarver. Tiant and Fisk. A whole lot of lucky Reds pitchers and Bench. And of course you’ll have grown up watching Matt Harvey and Travis d’Arnaud all those years. There’s no friendship like the one between pitcher and catcher.
The most important stuff to finish up lad.
I hope that the whole jock-nerd dynamic is a thing of the past by the time you grow up, but that’s probably a longshot. I just hope you remember, Mr. Successful Athlete, that your dad is a huge Star Trek fan and played plenty of Dungeons and Dragons growing up and if I have anything to say about it, the same will be true for you. Of course if I have anything to say about it, you’ll know that kindness, just plain old kindness, is the most important quality any person can have. I’m not too worried though. The four-year-old you is off to a great start in that department.
I hope you’re still going to Mass every Sunday but that you don’t turn into one of these weirdos that feels compelled to thank God on camera after you pitch a shutout. I can’t sit here and tell you that I’ve never prayed for a little help for the Mets and I’ll probably say the Rosary from your first pitch to your last in every outing you ever have. Our blessed Lord tells us that even the hairs on your head are numbered and if that’s true and as it is I would move heaven and Earth to make you happy, can you imagine how God feels about you? Nevertheless, I would hope He would have bigger things occupying His mind than you beating the Astros. Besides, if you thank God on TV after every win, don’t you necessarily have to go on TV and ask him why He has forsaken you after every loss?
I hope you make a commercial that starts with you saying something like “Hi, this is Jonesy Lilly of the New York Mets (or whichever team; I swear, whichever team). I was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum when I was a year and a half old but thanks to my own determination and hard work and with the help of some great teachers, I was able to live out my dream of making it to the Major Leagues.” Something like that. Then announce that this season you’ll be donating $1000 to an autism awareness foundation for every strikeout. I know you know you’re wonderful just exactly the way you are, but not every kid on the spectrum knows that. You’ll be able to help them realize that and you should.
I hope I do a good enough job with you that everyone from your Little League coach to your big-league manager raves about how they wish every player they had was like you. Remember, whether it’s Mr. Leach in t-ball or John Farrell, you do like skip tells you.
I hope I do a good enough job with me that I’m not driving your skipper crazy by telling him every five minutes how he should be handling you or that I’m not yelling at umpires or other parents or any of the other nonsense that would just make you wind up hating the game and resenting me.
I hope when you give your speech at the BBWA dinner to accept your Cy Young Award and when you give your champagne-soaked interview after you’ve won Game 7 of the World Series and you when you’re up at the podium in Cooperstown, the very first person you thank is your mother. Trust me , anything you ever get right you’ll be getting mostly from her and it’ll will in all likelihood be her who racked up six figures in miles driving you to practice after practice and game after game. And when she rushes out of the stands hysterical because that liner back through the middle caught your square on the knee, you be nice and pretend not to be embarrassed. I know all your high school teammates will be looking on– who are we kidding son, this is your mom we’re talking about, it could just easily happen as you’re pitching in the All-Star Game at Wrigley Field– but let her do it. She’s your mother. No further explanation should be required here. She’s your mother.
I know no one will believe me when I say this, but if I have to revise this whole missive because you became anything from an actuary to a modern interpretive dancer, I’m fine with it. I can’t help but hope you’ll pitch in the Majors, win a bunch of Cy Youngs, pitch and win a bunch of World Series games, end up in the Hall, the whole bit. But mostly I just hope you’re happy and healthy. You’re both those things today at age four and there is nothing in the whole of God’s own cosmos I wouldn’t do for you to stay that way all the days of your life. You’re just a great kid and from the second you came into my life you’ve unlocked whole new levels of unconditional love and wellsprings of joy I had no idea existed.
You know how much I love baseball?
No comparison to you. Nowhere near. Like comparing the ’62 Mets and the ’86 Mets.
I’ll make sure you understand how profound that difference is.
Anyway…I love you little boy.