I am having to aunt as I have never aunted before. My entire clutch of nephews has forsaken baseball for lacrosse. This now means that I have been yanked from the solid West Side ground of crunchy parish backyard dirt and scores of 18-2 to some… sort of… artisanal microbrew East Side-based way of life involving nets on a stick.

After two years of this, I have discerned that lacrosse is an intially reasonable-sounding between hockey and soccer, and it has caught fire amongst the male youth of the West Side in the past few years, largely because you’re allowed and in fact encouraged to use the sticks to hit one another. Baseball cannot possibly compete once word of that gets around.

There’s no quick end to this now. Two weeks ago I saw something at the playing fields of a West Side high school that I never saw once in my entire bowling league childhood: Two tiny kids with two tiny plastic lacrosse sticks, dutifully casting a ball back and forth.

That’s how you get them. That’s how it starts. You make it seem simple, and then you introduce the sanctioned stick-hitting, and then you wallop everyone in the child’s family with the fact that the rules of this sport are like the constitution of Great Britain: The body of laws don’t actually exist except within everyone’s mind and a large, haphazard pile of scraps of paper scattered throughout places with names like “Sussex” and “Norwich.”

Also they change based on the ambient temperature. Two weeks ago the ref blew the whistle for “delay of game,” and I was the only one with the aunt-moxie to say out loud what all the parents were actually thinking: “Now they’re just making s(tuff) up.” Clearly, the ref remembered watching part of a football game this one time and heard a penalty for “delay of game” and it sounded sufficiently serious, so they just threw it into the Great Lacrosse Stew of Regulations to simmer with true crowd-pleasing bangers like “over and back” and “unreleasable penalty.” 

All around me the parents murmured amongst themselves: What might this mean? We were all West Siders, born, bred, and remained; none one person in the stands grew up barely even hearing of lacrosse. It was a foreign sport in every possible way. The children might as well have announced they were taking up UFO Construction.

It got to the point where one of the coaches strolled over to address the confused supporters at large: “They’re just now enforcing this…” he began, and we all leaned forward on our seat cushions to receive this new edict on high, from a god whose name we did not know, and when he returned to the sideline we all shrugged and continued to look for the ball going into the net, for at least that much we all understood. Lacrosse rules are like Star Wars canon, changing on the daily and according to whoever is directing the action at that particular second. Why bother to understand what’s going on when next week it’s going to be legal to tie a taser on the end of the stick?

I could say that baseball is far superior to lacrosse in the relative calm and simplicity of its rules, but frankly nothing prepared me for lacrosse aunting like the playground “you guys, what if we did this” nature of baseball. At least lacrosse is like something else. Baseball is its own bizarre and ludicrous American outgrowth. I am told it’s like cricket, but no one understands cricket, either, so we’re left to Google the infield fly rule again and go on yelling at one another about the DH. Fourteen years after importing Josh The Pilot into baseball, I’m still hearing “Wait, why is that guy out but the other guy isn’t?” And it’s my own fault.

I don’t understand lacrosse, but then again I also don’t understand the folding seat cushion I lugged into the stands at the beginning of the season, passing an entire quarter (I’m pretty sure there are quarters) vainly attempting to transform it from flat to folded. In baseball aunting, the chairs have legs, and do not mock my Master’s degree.

So be it. My nephews are happy, and so I am happy. They wear helmets with straps on them and the goalie’s stick looks like a pool strainer. I cannot fault them for loving irrationally. They have, perhaps, learned it from their aunt.

20 Responses

  1. greenmtred

    How does one pronounce “unrealsable?” A great read to start the day. Thanks, Mary Beth.

  2. Michael Smith

    Bravo!!! Mad props for referencing the ridiculous nature of the UK Constitution and Star Wars Canon!!! Lord Gladstone approves

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Well, thanks. My people are part German and part Mandalorian.

  3. Old Big Ed

    I understand that Walker Buehler in Lexington was thinking as a younger teenager of bagging baseball and playing lacrosse. He came to his senses, though.

    • NorMichRed

      If only somehow Walker could have found his way to the muddy banks of the glorious Ohio River in the Queen City instead of those still-hated rivals out in LaLaLand. Alas…

    • lost11found

      $$ is what changed Walker’s mind.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      First I was about to reply that in Kentucky, this was probably a matter of survival. Then I realized you were talking Lexington and was like “That checks out.”

  4. Rednat

    I remember watching my son play knothole baseball in the 1970’s and 1980’s at old roselawn park. Tee- ball was fun but after that it went down hill fast. Imagine an 8 year old kid pitching to an 8 y/o catcher in full gear. pretty much every pitch was a passed ball or wild pitch. for some reason though mlb rules applied. so, yes, stolen bases were allowed. there was no 10 run mercy rule so often scores would be 40-27 on 4 hits with 20 errors! my son plowed through boredom and by the time he was 13 the game was actually watchable again

    I can understand why kids today prefer playing soccer and lacrosse over baseball. just so much more action!

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Oh it’s rough. There needs to be a pitch clock on first graders.

  5. Mark Moore

    Perfect article for an overcast day here in the Triangle! And it is a fun sport to watch (I root for Syracuse at the collegiate level) if for nothing more than all the stick smacking madness. Plus, my Orange are in the thick of it in the ACC in addition to their shot at “dancing” this weekend in the NCAA March Madness. I’m one loss away from completely turning my attention to the stick ball game!

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Thanks for reading 🙂 I can’t fault the boys too much, though. Their aunt hearts figure skating, too.

  6. Ghostrunner_onthird

    Well done as usual MB. You rule.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      You are very kind! Thanks!

  7. Scott C

    Lacrosse is truly like life. People want to continually change the rules in life too. Of course baseball isn’t much different anymore, first the DH now they mess with the ball. And are going to crack down on using “illegal substances on the ball. Gaylord Perry is shaking his head.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      But at least if you try to change your life rules, you at least tend to **know** it!