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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Boys of Summer

Mix in a few acres of empty field, some steel pipe, some concrete blocks, a bunch of chain-link fencing and some wooden planks, and what do you get? Kids!

It is Little League Baseball and there are at least seven fields at the town complex, ranging from a backstop with grass all the way to little stadiums featuring outfield fences with advertising and bleacher seating. Some of the kids are older, they throw with authority, starting to grow mustaches, and when the bat meets the ball the 'do-oink' is strong and loud! (Aluminum bats. Alas, there is no longer the 'crack' of the bat...).

The kids wear uniforms, have fans, have umpires, all the trappings. Along with parents there are the brothers and sisters and friends filling up the stands. Kids wearing soccer uniforms (from the adjacent soccer fields) running along on the dirt and gravel and grass and weed parkways between the ball fields.

A Junior High School boy holds up a hot dog, waves it, and cries, "Do you want half?!" I follow his eyes, there, up in the bleachers a pretty young girl in tank top and shorts.

"Bring it up!" She answers.

"Meet me half-way," he insists.

"C'mon!" She pleads...Now I notice the girl is already sitting next to another boy. Love triangle, alas!

We move farther along. Here the players are smaller and instead of the opposition pitching, a friendly coach is trying to lob an easy one up there for one of his players to hit. There is still an umpire but few of the swings I see actually connect with ball. But this is not yet our destination.

The last field. There are still wooden-plank bleachers along the first-and-third base lines. There is still a backstop, chain link, of course. There is actually a concrete block building with a public announcer (" batting, Jason!"). There is no outfield fence and none of the players are able to hit the ball that far anyway. We have reached the Kindergarten T-Ball field.

My grandson, DJ, is wearing #4 and stationed at shortstop. His Dad is coaching the team, The Mariners, and another Dad is assisting. The other team features three Dads as coaches. Moms and Dads also work the concession booths, haul equipment, print out flyers, pitch in for after-game truly is a family affair!

In T-Ball, the player hits the ball off of a stationary rubber tee and runs to first base. The opposition works hard to throw him out at first, but whether they do (unlikely) or not, he will stay at first. The next player will do the same and so on, each batter running to first and then moving up one base at a time while the ball is thrown unsteadily around the infield. The last batter runs all the way home and the defense tries to get the ball back to the catcher, a tiny figure in his catching armor who, when he gets the ball, tries to tag out the players who have yet to reach home plate.

My grandson still runs away from the baseline, like a running back in football, to avoid the tag. This is illegal, but he gets a great deal of satisfaction from this anyway. No score is kept.

There are three Tylers on the two teams. Must have been the hot name of 2001? Anyway, we parents and grandparents find ourselves shouting for and encouraging the small boys on both sides as the game goes on. It is more an extended practice session than a game, but they all have uniforms and earn certificates at the end of the season.

My younger grandson, Nathan, has a blonde girlfriend, Gabby, with whom he plays all through the game. Next year he will be swinging the bat and running to first. DJ will be in the league where they lob the ball to him. His parents will truly have hectic schedules then! The boys will be playing soccer, baseball and basketball next year. Wow....Sara and Donny will be hustling a lot of candy bars!

But you look at the faces of these little guys and you know they are all just having a blast. Six-seven years from now they will be in the big kid fields, trying to hit fastballs and not look like an idiot in front of their friends. They will be heroes for hitting the winning double or goats for dropping a flyball.

Now, it is about just trying and giving effort. But it is all about being a kid. Girls teasing boys, boys throwing balls around, parents frantically trying to get their broods together, shirts with mustard stains, Dads lugging canvas sacks stuffed full of bats and gloves and other equipment. Kids running and shouting and jumping.

I remember when I was as old as DJ, trying to hit the balls my Dad would lob to me with a bat too big for me to really swing. But sometimes I would hit the ball and it would be a great triumph! Those were the days when, if the ball was thrown to me, catching it without dropping it or allowing it to bonk me in the head was a victory. It was just me and Dad. Maybe there are more people and equipment now, but I still saw a lot of kids and a lot of Dads. Maybe it isn't all that different.

Baseball may be hard to watch on TV, but it really is a joy to play. For every millionaire ballplayer being accused of using illegal drugs to hit the ball farther, there are thousands of little guys taking mighty swings at a small white ball while their families shout and cheer them on. That's what I'm talkin' about! The real boys of summer.


highboy said...

Good old American little guys. I love it. I actually had the pleasure of coaching pee wee football with my dad a few times. There is nothing more fun.

oriolebird38 said...

is it sad that when i was skipping through this entry the first time, I thought DJ meant White Sox color guy Darrin Jackson?

radar said...

Hey, Oriole? Is it a strange world where the White Sox and the Tigers are the two best teams in baseball???

oriolebird38 said...

clearly not, because the Tigers are currently ahead by 2 games :P