Recently while watching a Little League game, I recalled that some years back, I took a walk around Cunningham Park in Queens. Near a baseball field on the Union Turnpike side, I came across a man and a boy playing baseball.
The man held a bat and tapped out grounders to the boy. The kid, maybe 10 years old, had on a glove but was having a tricky time of it, usually missing or at least bobbling the grounders.
"No," the man said. "That's wrong."
The boy listened.
"Get your glove down," the man said. "Get it down low."
The man hit the ball again, and again the boy flubbed the grounder.
"No," the man said. "You're doing it all wrong. Listen to me. Do as I showed you."
I stopped to watch. Apparently, the man and boy were father and son. At first I thought, how nice for a dad to teach his son to play ball. My father never did -- too busy working -- and I knew how good it felt hitting and catching with my own son.
"Good, Michael," I always told my son. "You're getting good. You're only going to get better."
But as I watched, I realized something was wrong.
The same dynamic kept repeating itself. This father criticized his son, belittling his performance, expressing disappointment and frustration, and doing so louder and louder. And the son, who struggled to apply the lessons and please his father, looked increasingly stricken with shame and embarrassment.
Maybe, I thought, I should say something. As a boy playing baseball, I had made the same mistakes. As a father, I believed in heavy doses of encouragement. Then again, I thought, maybe I should mind my business.
I watched for a few more minutes, giving the scenario a chance to go right. I suspected the father, no doubt aware of my presence, believed I actually admired him for administering such discipline. I hoped the kid would demonstrate some improvement, or the father some tolerance for his imperfections.
Finally, I could take it no more.
"You're the one who's doing it all wrong," I said to the man.
"What?" the father said, looking at me in disbelief at my accusation.
"All you're doing is running him down, making him feel bad."
He looked at me, mouth open.
"Who asked you?" he said.
"Nobody had to ask me."
"Mind your own business."
"I've made it my business."
He took a few steps toward me. He was burly, broad in the shoulders, with meaty hands, maybe 10 years younger and 30 pounds heavier than I. He looked like a firefighter or construction worker.
"Look," I said as he came closer, "you're taking all the fun out of it. You're ruining baseball for your son."
I voiced this view more as a plea than in a tone of outrage. I wanted to reason with him, get him to understand. A regular dose of competition is good medicine for kids, but so is a steady drip of encouragement.
"But you know what?" I said. "You're right. It's none of my business. It's yours."
And I turned to walk away. But as I left, I caught sight of the kid looking at me. He wore a little smile. Maybe he was letting me in on a secret. Maybe he already knew that no matter what, he was only going to get better.
He snagged the next grounder with ease. Who knows? He could be the next Derek Jeter.
Bob Brody is a media relations executive and essayist in Forest Hills.