The batter, his oversized shirt hanging past his knees but his stance firm and his grip on the bat determined, took his first swing. It was a clean miss. His second knocked the tee over. His third, though, was a solid hit straight toward the outfield.
Or maybe that was the infield. At any rate, it was the spot where a dozen or so five-year-old fielders, arranged in rows, were waiting. They were quivering like a bunch of bright-eyed puppies waiting for someone to throw a ball for them to chase.
And chase the ball is exactly what they did. As it came toward the center of the pack—oops, the team—they surged toward it in a mad scramble to get there first. Half a dozen of them ended up in a tangle of skinny arms and legs that looked more like a post-tackle football pileup than something that should be happening on a baseball field. Meanwhile, the batter, after a pause to watch the action and some encouragement to run in the right direction, trotted to first base.
This wasn’t baseball, exactly. It was teeball, which is sort of baseball lite for little ones, intended to teach them the fundamentals with an emphasis on the “fun.” My own kids having been involved in music, drama, and debate rather than athletics, this was my first-ever teeball game.
It was also my grandson’s first game. He’s a budding athlete, and for him this was a big event. He looked quite professional and handsome (cute, actually, but he hates being called that) in his uniform shirt and ball cap, his uniform pants, the bright blue belt he had picked out himself, and his hot green soccer shoes. He was serious about the throwing and catching practice that preceded the game, he was intent when it was his turn to bat, and he was alert and focused out in the field.
Maybe a little too focused, actually. That pile of kids trying to get the ball away from each other? Guess whose grandson was right in the middle of the pile. Guess whose grandson was one of the kids who got a little extra talk from the coach after the game. He told us later that the coach explained they weren’t supposed to fight over the ball because they were all on the same team.
Being on the same team isn’t a concept these little ones quite grasp yet. But over the next six weeks of teeball, they might just begin to learn it, because they have some excellent teachers.
Fathers. There was the official coach. His official assistants. Several unofficial helpers, like my grandson’s father, who were out there on the field helping herd—er, coach. Volunteers, of course, the whole bunch of them, who almost but not quite outnumbered the kids. They were all over the field: encouraging, supporting, and teaching. With no yelling, no scolding, and no unrealistic expectations that these five-year-olds were going to act like “real” ballplayers. They appeared to be having as much fun as the kids were.
And that, I realized, is the real team in teeball. Happy Father’s Day to them all.