It’s hard to beat T-ball
Parents have warned me for years.
“You won’t believe your eyes or ears.”
“Innocence not yet lost.”
“Sport at its best.”
Raise the subject of Little League, and more often than not, parents will hearken back to some politicking or favoritism that kept their kids off one of the all-star teams.
How quickly some of them forget.
Before the majors, minors and farm leagues, there’s the beauty of T-ball. The game where everybody wins and few of the 6- and 7-year-old boys and girls know more than two or three rules.
As a kid I never had the opportunity to experience this volunteer-driven privilege of childhood. I regret it to this day. Hence, I didn’t want my boys, Connor and Jordan, to miss out on this slice of youth, even though players need mittens instead of gloves and Sorels instead of cleats while playing baseball in South Lake Tahoe.
All of the fun began a few weeks ago when Willie Shamas gave my wife, Jean, and I call, informing us that the first practice was just days away.
Realizing that the boys hadn’t thrown a baseball or hit off a tee since they sampled the Barry Bonds starter set – a gift from their grandparents – last summer, I put the boys through a rigorous two-day workout to silence the critics. Or was it to reduce my own potential for embarrassment.
Then came the rules session.
Remember trying to explain the rules of baseball the first time. They’re equal to teaching a child the English language – very confusing.
Rather than leave the total burden up to the manager, I showed them the difference between fair and foul balls, where the bases are located and how a batter is retired. However, they declined to watch an A’s game on the SportsChannel to supplement their learning. Don’t ask me why?
No use teaching them Billy Ball yet, anyway. You know, the hit-and-run, suicide squeeze plays and delayed steals.
The day of reckoning eventually arrived. I was probably more hyped about the practice than my boys. I arrived with a glove, ball and bat – everything short of cleats and a batting helmet.
I was quickly becoming one of those parents I didn’t want to become: meddlesome and annoying.
Luckily, a friend, Ron, intervened and suggested, “Why don’t you stand back and let the kids get accustomed to answering to the manager?”
That I could do. Sixteen years of covering high school sports made the transition natural.
Besides, I was missing all of the precious comments and actions of the T-ballers.
The first time a batter blasted a ball into the outfield, the whole team, including all of the infielders, ran out to retrieve the ball. Good thing the batter didn’t know that there were bases beyond first.
The children learned that being separated from your friends in baseball isn’t discipline, it’s just a smart way to cover the field.
At the end of the first practice, we learned that the season-opener was a week away, but not before a little boy, Ryan, declared, “My feet hurt.”
Intermittent snow and rain didn’t prevent the boys and girls from practicing one final time last Tuesday. Good thing the NIAA, the Nevada prep police, wasn’t involved – they were going to play a game with only two practices under the belt.
Jordan had heard from his teammate and best friend, Lucas, that they were scheduled to play the big kids, or as he put it, the the Big Leaves. None of the kids objected when the Cubs instead showed up.
They knew something special was about to happen in their lives. After all, why were they allowed to go somewhere without their parents as they did during the opening ceremonies. I know that’s really why they threw their caps up in the air and why they obediently remained in the middle of the field for a half-hour.
When the Cubs and A’s took the field for the T-ball opener, I let out a sigh of relief when both managers agreed to let all of the kids play from the start. Distinguishing between reserves and regulars wasn’t something any parent wanted to do right off the bat.
The beauty of watching a T-ball game is the innocence and naivete of the future stars. One minute they’re playing with their shoelaces and the next their glove could be on the ground because they’re chasing a butterfly.
“Hitting is after we’re in the field again,” announced a coach to his distracted fielders.
Even more precious was their knowledge of the bases. Good thing umpires aren’t utilized. Missed bases and running out of the baseline are the norm for these guys.
“You just took off. I meant to wait until the ball was hit, not before,” one coach instructed his player.
But some of the kids were clued it. Like Troy. Troy, play second base. “Is that it way over there?”
Or the A’s Tanner, who declined to put on the base-running gloves neatly tucked into his back pocket after sharply singling twice to the outfield fence.
One parent summed it up best: “None of these kids have a clue of how to play. It’s so cute.”
That was before David Levesque of the A’s sent one over the left-field fence on the bounce for a rare T-ball feat – a ground-rule double.
Players quickly learned that catcher is the coolest position. You get to wear all of that cool “combat” equipment.
“I don’t think you want to do catcher, it’s hard,” said one player, obviously wanting to keep the gear for himself.
Of course, the kids asked who won when the game ended. They accepted the 15-15 tie – the way all T-ball games end – because a parent was encouraging them to come get a very enticing snack.
I can hardly wait for the next game.
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