Like most grandsons, mine plays Little League baseball. And like most grandfathers, I believe my grandson has college scholarship written all over him. The drive to my daughter's home in Virginia takes a little over six hours, and so on a bright and early Friday morning this past spring, I set off to catch a couple of my grandson's baseball games. They would be played on Friday evening and Saturday morning.
One more thing.
Saturday was also his 10th birthday, and I'm fairly confident he sensed that his "papa" would be springing for the gift of his dreams.
Truth be told, as much as I was looking forward to watching him play, I was really looking forward to the experience of taking him to his favorite sporting goods store to shop for his birthday present.
Friday night's game was reasonably uneventful. My grandson played shortstop and pitched, had two hits and his team won. But I was already looking ahead to the next day. Little did I know how special it would be.
I was struggling with possible gift options, so I asked his dad (who also happens to be his coach) if he had any suggestions. He said he'd give it some thought and talk to me at Saturday's game.
On Saturday morning, we arrived at the ball park about an hour before game time so we could watch warm-ups. I marveled at his young skills.
Eventually, the ump yelled, "Play ball"! And play ball he did. He started at shortstop for two innings, then pitched two hitless innings and finished the game behind home plate in the catcher's position. He had three hits including an inside-the-park home run, which his mother missed because she had selected that very moment to go to the bathroom.
After the game, my grandson's dad informed me that our boy had worn a hole in the toe of his shoe, the result of his pitching mechanics. He suggested a new pair of baseball cleats might be in order. The idea made sense, and I believed my birthday gift dilemma was resolved.
Once the game ended, the whole family knew where we were headed next. My grandson tried his best to hide his excitement, but he wasn't fooling anyone.
Upon entering the store, he and his younger sister scattered to check out the many offerings. I soon caught up with him in the baseball gloves display and gently guided him over to the display of baseball cleats. I pointed to the barely noticeable hole in his right shoe and asked him if he'd like a new pair of cleats for his birthday.
He lowered his head not wanting to appear impolite or ungrateful. But it was clearly obvious. Baseball shoes were not his first choice.
I encouraged him to keep looking and about the same time, my daughter, who had been observing us from a short distance away, sidled up to me.
"Dad, do you mind if I remind you of something you may have forgotten?" She continued, "Birthday gifts for 10-year-olds should be about what they want and not what they need."
I had an immediate epiphany. I don't know why, but I instantly flashed back to my own childhood recalling my most memorable birthday present.
It was my 15th birthday and a party was being held in my honor. My next-door neighbor was coming and asked what I wanted as a gift. I told her I'd like a sweater. Now I had plenty of sweaters. I had a passion for sweaters. Still do. I didn't need another sweater, but I surely wanted one.
When it came time to open my presents, I chose my neighbor's gift first. I opened the gift box and discovered a bright red V-neck sweater. I was overjoyed. You cannot imagine how much I treasured that sweater.
My grandson had wandered back to the glove display and was trying on a catcher's mitt. I was a little mystified since he already had a fielder's glove.
I glanced over at my daughter. She had a grin on her face and leaned in to tell me that most of the catchers in his league had their own personal catcher's mitt. I asked him if the glove was what he wanted, and he lit up like Christmas tree.
As we left the store, he tightly hugged my hip, and his face was filled with unbridled joy. It was one of my life's great moments
The full experience was simply priceless -- borne from a daughter's lesson to her father. Children's birthday gifts should be more about what they want and less about what they need. Perhaps my red sweater would become his catcher's mitt.
Paul McCarthy is a retiree living in Mount Pleasant who freelances and does some public speaking. Reach him at www.jencinfreelancewriting.com.