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Archive for Sunday, June 9, 2002

T-Ball tougher than it sounds

June 9, 2002

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A fun thing happened to me the other night. I saw my first T-Ball game. Yeah, I know. I should have seen one before now. But I hadn't. Now after witnessing just one T-Ball game I consider myself an expert, of course.

The first thing you have to know about T-Ball is that you will see an out recorded about as often as you see a panda chasing a fire truck down Massachusetts Street. Thus there are always base runners. How do they get on base? Basically hitting the ball on the ground or in the air.

No game can start, I soon realized, without four batting helmets. Why four? Because the bases are seemingly always loaded and the base runners have to wear the helmets, too.

Now you'd think that with the sacks jammed the team on defense would have an edge with a force out available at any base, particularly home. But, no, T-Ball teams don't have catchers so if a batter hits a ground ball to the pitcher with the bases loaded, the pitcher has to run and touch home plate before the runner coming down from third arrives.

It doesn't take long for coaches to realize it is sound strategy to have one of your fastest players on the mound.

A T-Ball team can have from 12 to 20 players. Only one can be on the mound and you don't really need any outfielders so the infield looks sort of like the concession area at the Southwind Theatres before Spider-Man. It's as difficult to hit a ball through the infield as it is to slam a tennis ball through the net.

When the baseball is struck off the tee, the first reaction of the players in the field is to imitate a statue. Momentarily, though, one player starts running for the ball and others in the area soon join in lukewarm pursuit. So you have four or five kids chasing a ball with each one thinking someone else will pick it up and do whatever is supposed to be done with it. Since this is T-Ball, nobody really knows what to do with the ball until a coach hollers how to dispose of it.

Every now and then a precocious tot youths range in age from 4 to 8 will have the presence of mind to throw the ball to first base. When this basic fundamental is invoked, two things can happen both of them bad. One, the throw will be wild. Two, the throw will not be caught.

On this night, a first baseman was escorted off the field bawling after a high-lob throw plunked him on the face. The plucky youngster was back a few minutes later, however, none the worse for wear because the T-Ball spheroid is heavily rubberized.

The whole idea of T-Ball is to develop the primary baseball skills and help youngsters learn the fundamental rules by trial and error. At the same time, T-Ball gives parents an excuse to leave the house instead of watching "Wheel of Fortune" or "Entertainment Tonight."

The game I saw lasted three full innings and consumed about an hour. It started late because one of the team's coaches was apparently held up in traffic (If you've ever been to the Youth Sports Inc. fields, you'll understand). Afterward, all the kids lined up, slapped hands, uttered the obligatory "Good game," then rushed back to the dugout where they gathered their gear and, like grubs to grass, sought the coach who had brought the treats.

A few minutes later, I asked one of the participants, one hand holding a granola bar and the other a boxed fruit drink, who had won and she said: "I don't know. I think we did."

What was the score? "Uh, I don't know."

She also didn't know she was a 35 percenter. The national T-Ball people estimate that 65 percent of the participants are boys and the remainder are girls. Hard telling, but it looked more like about an 80-20 ratio in the game I saw.

Not that it matters. Children are not born to live on soccer alone.

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