Life’s lessons learned on the T-Ball field.
Thursday, June 23, 2005
In childhood, there are many key milestones. Like cutting a first tooth, rolling over, smiling, talking, going to kindergarten and getting in the first fist fight, landing a spot on a sports team gets its own page in the virtual scrapbook. This spring, my just turned 5-year-old son was to do the family proud and of course have a blast playing T-Ball, the very name of which can conjure up Hallmark-worthy sentiment. I quickly managed to work T-Ball into most conversations.
“T-Ball,” exclaimed the parents of older, presumably sullen children. “Those were the days!”
“T-Ball,” exclaimed child-less adults. “How fun!”
I believed it. This was going to be really fun. And so I slogged through the intimidating aisles of Cages Indoor Batting in Monterey trying to figure out the correct size baseball pants (“like, really small”) and even sprung for the wee Nike cleats.
The only person who wasn’t sure about the whole deal was my son. Before our first practice, held at Carmel River School, he worried that he should be wearing his entire uniform. He tried to put on the cleats. They hurt. We took off the cleats, both threw on baseball hats, and headed to meet the Yankees.
With all the rain, the field was too wet, so the boys and girls tossed tennis balls to each other on the playground blacktop while the coaches struggled to maintain some semblance of order.
Quickly the baker’s dozen of children demanded some separating, so the big kids—the 6-year-olds—were put together for some batting practice, while the 4- and 5-year-olds were encouraged to run the “bases.”
There was some disagreement among the ranks about which direction to run, and remembering to tag the “bases” seemed optional, so the rest of the practice was mostly a dizzying spiral of children running in circles.
My son left fairly elated, but concerned about the number of balls he had caught in the earlier part of practice. In what was to become a frequent refrain throughout the season, he worried that he “only caught three balls.”
Coach Kirk Haines squeezed in an additional practice that first week, so we could be slightly prepared for Opening Day that Saturday in Carmel Valley.
As the president of Carmel Unified Youth Baseball likes to point out, Dampierre Park in Carmel Valley must be the prettiest setting for youth baseball in the country. Surrounded by green mountains with trails leading to Garland Park, and with its own impressive snack bar staffed by moms (not entirely willingly), the place rocks.
And to a 5-year-old, it can also be terrifying. My son, standing in the outfield, somewhere in the region of first base, managed to get pegged by the ball in various places, including one so precious that Coach Haines dashed like lightning across the field in the middle of the game to make sure he was still conscious.
He was. Although the ball that hit him in the nose smarted, and the ball that, mercifully, just hit him on the inner thigh hurt, my son shook it off. He kept his game face on. But after the game, he let me know that he was over T-Ball. To make matters worse, the fun parts of the game—swinging at the ball with a too-big helmet hanging over his head, running the bases, tagging some of them—were marred by the overall team conduct.
In their eagerness to get to the ball, the boys on the team (I never saw the girls do it) were shoving, tussling and pushing each other, and snatching the balls out of their teammates’ hands.
It was pep talk time. We drowned our sorrows with milkshakes at RG Burgers, conveniently the team’s sponsor, and after high-fiving all the employees and downing a plateful of chicken strips and fries, my son decided to give it another go.
But he was still worried.
At a late-season practice, us moms decided to stop sitting on the sidelines.
Wearing high-heeled leather boots and a short skirt, one of the other moms took second base while I took first, and she calmly informed the boys that if they continued knocking their teammates over to try to get the balls, she would “tackle” them.
I shouted out confusing directions to the kids, but managed to make it clear that they would take turns manning the bases and stop pushing.
“They’re listening,” the other mom said, amazed. “They’re getting it.”
For the first time, my son left the practice smiling.
But the T-Ball experience had left some scars. Two weeks ago, at closing day ceremonies, my son would not exit the car. I tried all the usual things, even including reasoning, but it was useless. The only way he was going on the field was with me carrying him. It didn’t last long.
“Mom, put me down!” he barked. But as soon as he was down, he grabbed my arm with both hands, dug his heels into the soft dirt like a recalcitrant colt, and attempted to drag me back to the car.
Then, like the sight of an angel, we saw Coach Haines. He waved, then seeing our distress, gently took one of my son’s hands in his, I took the other, and together, we led him to join all the other teams on the field.
After speeches, trophies, cupcakes, balloons, and tossing around a giant padded baseball, the season was finally over.
This time it was me dragging my son to the car. He played with his new balloon sword in the car on the way home. It popped loudly as we parked in our driveway.
“Mom,” he said, “I miss T-Ball.”