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On the road 

I coach a baseball team that travels in the summer to tournaments around the state. My companions this particular weekend were my third baseman, my catcher, my centerfielder and my pitcher. All staring down the barrel of puberty with very simple life goals: to punch you and/or trick you into eating something disgusting. (I wonder if Tony LaRussa has to eat pre-packaged food in a closet with a flashlight.)

Here's a typical conversation:

Pitcher: "Coach, where is this tournament?"

Catcher: "Raleigh."

3rd Baseman: "Charlotte."

Centerfielder: "Kinston."

Four minutes of punching.

Me: "It's in Forest City."

Catcher: "Who do we play first?"

3rd Baseman: "Crush."

Centerfielder: "Hurricanes."

Pitcher: "Diamondbacks."

Four more minutes of punching.

Me: "The Cobras."

Centerfielder: "Where are they from?"

Me: "Statesville, I think."

Pitcher: "My mom doesn't know we're going to Statesville."

Centerfielder: "Do they have a Hooters'?"

3rd Baseman: "I don't think my mom will let me go to Hooters'."

Pitcher: "We're playing the Hooters? I thought we were playing the Hurricanes."

Catcher: "There's a team called the Hooters?!?"

Me: "No! There is no team called the Hooters. I mean, there might be a team, but we are not playing them. It's a restaurant and we are not going! We are going to FOREST CITY to play the COBRAS and your mothers know where you'll be!"

3rd Baseman: "Coach ... dude ... chill."

I did learn some things on the trip. For instance, do not say that "Ashley is hot," without making clear that you mean Ashley C. (Ashley G. and Ashley V. are "trolls.") Also, If no one will claim that smell, my catcher will (some weird form of plagiarism that probably needs to be addressed by a professional).

I also learned that society is lucky that pre-teen boys are so gullible. With their strength, speed and energy, they'd certainly take over the world if they weren't so easy to trick. Finally, eat fast or go hungry. Neither titles, nor age, nor socio-economic status will save you a doughnut if you are slow.

Two nights later, we made the three-and-a-half hour return trip. The truck was quieter but smelled worse. We'd been out late and up early all weekend. We played two 10-hour days on hot, dusty ball fields and every game had been tight and competitive.

There was less punching and more calm, easy laughter. The boys remembered each other's triumphs with respect and their failures with empathy. They displayed battle scars and asked each other for advice on everything from their swing to their girlfriends.

I guess the truth is my best friends are 12-year-olds. Most adults don't play baseball and they get too excited about dumb things (like a promotion or a new car or a "clean" colonoscopy). Adults have forgotten the conflict-resolution benefits of a good punch, and they won't run laps when you tell them to.

So I'll stick with 12-year-olds. I'll just learn to hold my breath.

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