5 March 2006

Yesterday my son played his first T-ball game. He wore his spikes all day yesterday, and all day again today.

The game was mostly a hoot. You’ve got the kids who need reminding to run after they hit the ball. You’ve got the kids who take three swings to connect at all with the ball on the tee. You’ve got the three infielders and two outfielders all racing toward the same ball, then forming a scrum to decide which one of them gets to pick it up and throw it. The whole game was like that. I got to see it up close because I was one of several dads helping the coaches run the game.

The non-hoot parts were the crying kids–crying because they have to bat last, crying because their teammate won’t give them a drink from their water bottle, crying because they have to play left field and they know the ball will never be hit to them. And so on. In this league, five-year-olds are never put out on the basepaths. Partly this is to build their confidence, but I suspect it’s also because the coaches and league officials are parents, and they know that there will be way too much crying otherwise.

Even though the players are only five years old, you can already spot the players. Some of the clueless kids will clue in eventually, some will have their coordination come to them all in a rush. (It took me forever: I was finishing high school before I could hit a properly timed jump shot.) But some of them have it already–speed, alertness, hustle. These weren’t the kids who were crying because they got stuck playing catcher in a T-ball game.

Thinking about some things I’ve read recently, I wonder how much of those boys’ future success in the game will be attributable to that drive? I want to help every kid on the team enjoy baseball, because I love it and I want them to love it, too. But can anybody teach the sort of drive that the little dynamo kids are already showing? I certainly don’t know how. If you push too hard, you extinguish desire rather than fanning it; if you don’t push at all, the boys don’t get better, and, worse, they may not make the connection between trying and getting better. No good comes out of either extreme.

That’s all in the future. Somewhere, on my son’s ball field or some other, a future Hall of Famer is starting his career in baseball. That kid may be in San Juan or Nashville or Oakland or Pusan or Yokohama. Of course I hope it’s my son, if he can somehow avoid my bad eyesight and slow reflexes. So far, he loves being on his team, especially since it’s named for his daddy’s favorite team–the Red Sox. Partway through the game, he hiked up his pants legs to his knees so everyone could see his long, bright-red socks. He looked great running the bases. How could he not, with that big, fat smile on his face?


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