Saturday, October 15, 2016

The little boy's game

I don't doubt that regular visitors to this space are well aware of my love for the game of baseball.  I am passionate about the game and its traditions and like to think of myself as a student of the game, too.

These interests were magnified substantially when my son entered my life many years ago, as I met his mother and sister.  And as I've explained to my son over time, baseball is dynastic in nature, passed along from one generation to the next and the next.  And now that HE has a son, he sees that, too.  So it's been with a great deal of interest and pride that I have watched my now five-year-old grandson come to love and appreciate the game of baseball as well.

As I believe I have also noted here, my son began night classes in law school some 80 miles away, commuting there three nights per week.  As it happens, he started these classes about the time that my grandson's fall T-ball season began, and those games were usually played on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday evenings.  With our law student away at class on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and not available to help coach the team, as he had in seasons past, I've stepped in as needed and helped out.

My duties have usually involved being the first base coach when my grandson's team is at bat, and then staying on the field when the team is in the field, trying to keep these four to six year olds engaged and focused for safety as well as for good play.

Since my son didn't play as a younger kid, I missed seeing the chaos that often is T-ball.  Kids don't always know where to run, when to run, or what to do with that ball if it rolls in their direction!  So adult assistance is always essential to success, which is often judged quite loosely.

In any case, the final game of the fall season was Wednesday evening.  It was something of a special occasion, too, as our daughter and her family were visiting from Colorado.  And since it wasn't a class night, I assumed that our son would be coaching as he usually does when he's available.  But on that day he had a dental appointment, so it was understood he'd be there when he could.  My wife generally picks up our "local" grandchildren from school while both mom and dad finish the workday, and Wednesday was no different.

So we arrive at the field, and to add to the intricacies of the situation, the official coach of the team had injured his knee the previous weekend.  And the wife of one of the other parents who often helps to coach caught me as I arrived with our grandson and told me that her hubby wasn't going to be able to make it, and I'd be needed.  I nodded and helped get the players onto the field to do a little throwing and catching (which they hate, since all kids prefer batting to fielding).

Our son arrived from the dentist, but as the game started he didn't take a position on the field, instead taking photos of the team in action.  So I stepped back onto the field to help get our players positioned defensively, which is a loose description of what goes on.  Mainly, my job was to keep them looking toward home plate so that a well-struck ball didn't strike them, and also to keep them from playing in the dirt instead of watching for the ball!

Our defensive inning concluded and by default I wound up working at the plate with each of our players.  Customarily the coach from each team does that, to help the kids position themselves to hit, getting the height of the tee just right and so on.  I had never done that, so this would be something new.

Since the kids all know me as my grandson's grandfather (a couple even know that I'm "Poppy" to him and his sister and cousins) they weren't intimidated by a new face at home plate.  I made a point of asking each if the tee position felt right to them, made sure to place them at the proper distance from the plate so that they could make good contact, and offer encouragement as needed.  I'm pleased to say that virtually every player seemed to hit just a little better that game than usual, including my grandson.

The score is seldom the issue in T-ball.  Every player bats every inning, and even if outs are made they're not recorded and hitters remain on base.  But several of our players logged extra-base hits that night and I was glad I could help, at least a little.

So if anyone from the majors is reading this, there's a coach in waiting available for next season!


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