Slowly but surely, it’s coming.
Spring is around the corner and soon we’ll all be happy, warmer — and green. The pollen is brutal, but it means the weather won’t be cold with killer flurries. What’s good about spring is the coming of another baseball season. Soon we’ll be about to mortgage the home to afford tickets for four and a warm $7 beer. Good times.
I coached softball and baseball for many, many years. When my girls played, I coached softball and later, when the boys played, I moved to baseball. My grandson will start baseball this year. It reminded me how fun it was back in the day when the kids knew absolutely nothing about the rules. Games were the highlight of the week, simply for the entertainment value.
I had a group of girls, about 5 years old, with no knowledge of softball. I said to myself this was great! I’d teach them fundamentals and get them on the right track for years to come.
Here’s how it went at our first T-ball game:
Our first batter hit the ball off the tee. She ran to the bleachers to tell her mother, who urged her daughter to run to first by holding up a Snickers bar. So she ran to first, then continued down the left-field line to the fence where she stood, all proud.
But then she realized that the one fielder on the other team who knew you needed to tag the runner began running after her, followed by the rest of the defense. Sensing this was a fun thing, she laughed and began running along the fence line, followed by those defenders who chose not to stop to build something in the dirt over around first base.
The race is on
As the chase continued, I ran after the group and, coming alongside, I tried to explain that she needed to at least head back in the direction of first or second base while I tried to convince the umpire that running out of the baseline wasn’t really a big deal at this level.
The players, now moving like a small herd of giggling cattle, decided this was a good time for a race. The girl with the ball passed my runner and upon arriving at home plate, held the ball up and announced that she was the winner. My runner stopped and the two smiled at one another. Apparently this meant it was time to start the second lap.
My runner at least recognized first base as something significant and headed in that direction. Most of the defenders had been herded up by their coaches and were near the dugout kicking dirt while the coach attempted to review the rules of the game.
My runner stopped at first base, so we decided this was a single.
As game play resumed, my next batter took a swing and hit the tee, not the ball, and decided the ball didn’t need to sit there on the dirt all alone. She took a rather impressive golf swing with the bat, knocking the ball toward the outer edge of the infield.
This immediately started another stampede.
What do we do now?
The collective group of red and blue shirts, now more or less running amok in the direction of the ball, seemed a little bored with the goal of the race and slowed to admire the dirt. In seconds, there was a mass sitting, and many dirt mounds were now under construction.
The umpire, all of 15 years old, didn’t know what to do as this was an obvious gross violation of the game rules. The other coach and I strolled to the center of the group and took our kids to the respective dugout to review the rules and overall objective:
“Okay, kids, remember that what we want to do is hit the ball with the bat and then run to first base. Remember where first base is?”
“Once you get there, stop and the coach will tell you to run to second base or to stop. Everyone got that?”
“Anyone have questions?”
“I have to poop!”
“Uh, okay.” (Looking for parent.)
(This is why you need about 60 players on any T-ball team so the game can continue while many kids leave for various reasons.)
The first batter swings and hits a dribbler just in front of home plate. She politely walks up, takes the ball and hands it to the fielder and then races the fielder to first — and then beyond … again.
The stampede renewed. More dirt mounds were constructed as the umpire, who now couldn’t care less about the game, leaned up against the fence and called his girlfriend on his cell phone.
I again sprinted to the outfield area. While running with the girls, I tried to coax the kids, anyone, to give some thought about heading toward second base. As we moved on, I decided third base would be okay since the umpire was no longer in the mix.
The other coach and I, like a couple of border collies, moved in unison as we swept the red and blue shirts back toward the infield and, we hoped, toward some sort of organization.
We tried to figure out another strategy. But since it was obvious that in softball the batter has to hit the ball for the game to progress and in our case this would surely start another stampede, we opted for a play date in the dirt and broke out the snacks a bit early.
Many dirt mounds were built on that day and nobody went home crying about losing.
As the years went on and softball and baseball became very competitive, I missed the little kids. So as many of you embark on your first season of T-ball, you need to do two things: