T-ball is everything baseball should be.
ASHTABULA_As a sportswriter and lifelong baseball fan, I’ve seen, coached, played in and written about thousands of games. I’ve read countless books and stories about America’s Pastime. I learned how to divide in trying to figure out batting averages.
There’s always been a bit of romance in the game. In recent years, I haven’t been able to find the rhythm to the poetry and I’ve become numb to the beauty of the game. Great plays don’t excite me. Home runs don’t wow me. Parents, fans, players and coaches have turned my rose-colored glasses a bit brown.
Recently, however, I heard the music again, and was lulled back in.
I wasn’t a fan sitting in the bleachers at Progressive Field and I wasn’t working in a press box at a high school tournament game. There was no grand stage. Nobody was playing for a trophy and not a single player had anything to gain from performing well, unless, of course, you count a trip to Dairy Queen.
T-ballers, after all, are better motivated with ice cream than money.
There’s beauty in watching a team arrive at Cederquist Park and prepare to play. One player might sprint to a dugout, hat in hand, glove on his head and wearing a pair of jeans a size too big. Another might amble up wearing a pair of gym shorts that look more like pants, hat on sideways, a big toothy grin as he greets a friend while his mom rushes to keep up carrying his glove and bat while trying to keep hold his little sister. Then there’s the little girl who begs to put her jersey on at 2:30 in afternoon – a full three and a half hours before the game. She’s wearing baseball pants and eye black. Her hat pulled down tight, shirt tucked in and dust-covered spikes. By her side might be a blonde-haired cheerleader type with a ponytail swinging from the loop in her hat. This one’s wearing pink spikes with her jersey tucked perfectly into her bright white pants.
Warming up might include throwing a ball once in a while, but most likely has nothing to do with baseball. In the right-field corner a game of tag is developing. The shy kid might be sitting nervously on the bench. The team clown might be digging holes near the newly chalked batter’s box while three more players are perfectly the art of the dog pile in center field. Two of the more serious ballplayers might be actually be playing “catch” as another receives instruction on how to catch a ball.
Once the game begins, every time contact is made between bat and ball, it’s an overwhelming success. Every ball stopped before it reaches the fence is a great play. Every throw that comes to a rest in the general direction it was aimed is a victory.
Play is slow. The game is only slightly more important than the butterfly that has fluttered by the right fielder. The left fielder might be sitting Indian-style pulling up blades of grass and the center fielder might be handing a flower to his friend’s mom. The third baseman might have her hands on top of her head while searching the opposing dugout for her friend from school. The shortstop has her hands on her knees, looking every bit like she understands the game, even as the second baseman picks his nose. The pitcher isn’t quite sure where to stand and the first baseman has his legs crossed hoping he doesn’t have an accident because he drank his bottle of water by the middle of the second inning.
On no other diamond is it acceptable for the third baseman to run into the outfield, followed by six teammates in an attempt to be the first to the ball. In no other place will you see one player ask another if he can have the ball while opponents circle the bases. Crying is accepted as inevitable at this level of the game.
Most importantly, every hit brings the crowd to its feet and no mistake draws criticism. There’s something special in seeing the ear-to-ear grin brought on by success. The pure joy that takes over after a ball that is caught will bring a smile to even the most cynical of mugs. The victory dance at first base after a hit will leave you laughing.
T-ball is everything baseball should be. It’s 90 minutes of playing in the dirt on a hot summer evening. It’s a game. It’s fun. And, when it’s all said and done, there’s a smile as big as the moon that’s covered in chocolate ice cream.