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Baseball is better through a 5-year-old’s eyes

What our kids can teach us about sports.

New York Yankees v Boston Red Sox Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images

My son is five, going on six, which is a great age because he is old enough to understand things without having to worry about truly understanding them. What he loves, he loves with his whole heart, and what he loves more than anything right now is baseball.

We play Wiffle ball and catch pop ups with an oversized tennis ball whenever the mood strikes, which is often. When it’s raining, we take over the hallway and have a catch with a soft, squishy ball. He likes to get in a crouch and call pitches. If I throw too many balls he’ll call a meeting and tell me to throw strikes with his glove over his face. He finds this hilarious.

On our walk home from school we’ll stop and watch everything from Little League to Legion ball before playing our own game in the backyard. We’ve played so much that we managed to wear patches of dirt into the grass marking home plate and the pitcher’s mound. My wife finds this not so hilarious.

I should note that I didn’t push baseball — or any sport, for that matter — but he absorbed the game the way I did when I was his age. We went to Fenway, he watched Mookie Betts hit a home run, and that was it. Mookie was his guy and the Red Sox were his team. He goes to sleep with a game program that he studies endlessly and keeps a pack of baseball cards in his backpack.

His favorite conversation is called the Red Sox Guessing Game, where he thinks of a player and I try to guess who he’s thinking about. He’ll drop hints like, “I’m thinking of a player who doesn’t wear batting gloves” — Sam Travis — or “a pitcher who takes too long between pitches” — David Price. Earlier this year he discovered an old coffee table book covering the club’s history and he’ll occasionally throw in a Pedro Martinez or Luis Tiant to mix things up.

He’s old enough to know the Sox aren’t playing their best this season, but he’s young enough to not let it bother him all that much. He’s cool as long as they try to do their best, which is a pretty sensible way to look at sports no matter how old you are.

Because he doesn’t truly understand baseball, he’s not aware that Mookie is coming up on a contract year, or that there’s been talk in the press that Mookie might not be long for the Red Sox. I’ve tried to prepare him for this as honestly as I can, but all he really cares about is whether Mookie is in the lineup when we watch the Sox for a few innings before bed.

“Who cares about all that blah-blah-blah,” is his default response whenever the conversation goes too far away from the game on the field. That’s also a pretty good way to think about things.

Watching baseball with him has forced me to temper my own natural cynicism, ingrained through years of covering sports, and allowed me to see the game like I did when I was his age. It’s a refreshing change and one I highly recommend. We only get one chance to be a kid, but looking at things through the eyes of a child is an emotionally rejuvenating experience.

The other night we watched the Sox put up a 7-spot on the Yankees. He screamed with joy when Xander Bogaerts hit a 450-foot home run and howled when Jackie Bradley, Jr. scorched a two-run double down the right field line. “Dad!” he said, beaming joy. “Isn’t this great?” It sure is.