On a cool weekday afternoon in April, the U-M baseball team is about to play Bowling Green at Ray Fisher Stadium. And, as usual, Debbie Bourque, Don Eaton, and Ted Maezes are in the stands. These Ann Arbor parents have been watching their sons–James, Donnie, and Travis, respectively–play baseball since they were skinny grade-schoolers.

The teams file out on the field. The piped-in music goes silent.

“Please remove your hats,” the announcer says, “… and join us in honoring America, and those who protect it, with the singing of our national anthem, performed this afternoon by James Tice.”

Tice sings The Star Spangled Banner in a lovely alto voice, a cappella. Applause.

Jens Zorn, a retired Residential College physics professor and sculptor, explains he is here as “a friend of the singer … He’s a machinist in the physics department.”

Debbie Bourque and Don Eaton are sitting together.

Bourque works as a research administrator at the Institute for Social Research and says she can almost see the Wilpon Baseball Complex from there. She comes to all of her son’s games, just as she did when he pitched for Huron High. “Whether he plays or not,” she says. Today, he’s not scheduled to pitch.

Young Donnie Eaton is a pitcher, too. He played for Gabriel Richard in high school. Athletics runs in the family. His grandfather was U-M legend Don Canham (1918-2005), the head of U-M’s intercollegiate athletics from 1968 to 1988.

Don Eaton is married to Canham’s daughter, Clare, and works for Wolverine Sports, a Canham family business. Asked if his son ever feels lost in his grandfather’s shadow, Eaton says, “I don’t even think a lot of people put that together.” But he adds, “He loved his grandpa.”

The game begins, and every few minutes the conversation is interrupted by the crack of the metal bat making contact with a fast-thrown ball.

“The whole thing’s been fun for us as parents,” says Bourque. Eaton adds, “The kids are getting a good education and part of a great program, playing Division I baseball and enjoying it.”

He figures out of the eleven Big 10 teams, eight will make it into the regionals, and at this point, it looks like Michigan will be one of them. But the schedule is tough from here on out. And Eaton and Bourque don’t plan on missing any of the games.

Bourque says that James was originally going to go to the Naval Academy but decided baseball was too important to give up. “So it was either Michigan or Notre Dame,” she says. “We’re glad he picked Michigan, just ’cause we enjoy hangin’ with Don and Clare …”

“She came here because of me,” Eaton jokes.

Ted Maezes is sitting lower in the stands. His son, a graduate of Pioneer and a year younger than Bourque and Eaton, is a star shortstop. He comes up to bat, and everyone quiets down. Crack. Travis grounds out to first base. The first inning ends with Michigan scoreless. Bowling Green is up by three runs.

Travis “was more of a hockey player” in high school, his father says, but “he hurt his ankle one year, and a lot of colleges expressed interest in him in baseball.” He says Travis chose Michigan because of academics, and “he’s growing up. He’s learning lots of things.” And then he goes back to watching his son and the game.

Mike Highfield and Debbie Bourque’s husband were law partners, and recently the families became neighbors as well. He has season tickets to see the women’s softball team–a perennial powerhouse under veteran coach Carol Hutchins–but today is his first baseball game of the season. It’s cold, and Highfield is wearing shorts. “What I’m probably going to do,” he confides, “is leave at the end of this inning and go back downtown to my office and probably come back and watch the last couple of innings.

“That’s gonna be outta here,” says Highfield, interrupting himself when he hears a crack of the bat. We look up and watch the ball flying out for a home run. The crowd cheers. The Michigan fight song plays over the loudspeakers.

James Bourque is a history major, but his mom says that one of his favorite classes last term was English prof Steve Engle’s “Baseball and Fiction.” And when he talks about his future, it isn’t about becoming a successful lawyer like his dad. Being a professional baseball player is “more than in the back of his mind,” she says.

“It’s hard to believe that after the last day of classes today they’re going to be seniors,” she adds.

“I think as they get older, it becomes more and more important you get to as many games as you can,” says Eaton, “because their careers are coming to an end.”

In the seventh inning, Michigan is tied with Bowling Green when the Falcons score a pair of runs. They add another one in the ninth and win the game, 7-4. The loss goes to Donnie Eaton, in relief. He allowed one earned run, struck out a batter, and walked two in 1.1 innings.

I ask his dad if Donnie, too, thinks about playing in the major leagues.

“Oh, I think any kid … in Division I baseball has a dream,” Eaton says. “There’s no question. [But] you don’t talk about that kind of stuff. You handle the task at hand … getting your education.

“The thing that we realize that they probably realize,” Eaton says, “but not like they will, is the importance of their relationships with their buddies here.”

“You make such great friends,” Bourque agrees. “These will be the boys they will be friends with for years and years and years.”

The parents, too.