The sun is shining. The weather is getting warmer. Birds are singing. It means baseball season is arriving again. It also means a new crew of children to whom I will pass on my love and knowledge for and of the National Pastime.
It also means trying to nail down the names of six or seven new players, which usually means an afternoon of, “Hey!” since I need to get a message across to somebody fast. I might need to bring somebody’s attention to a ball thrown in their direction or wake somebody up who is not paying attention while they are on base and another baserunner is heading for that base. Who knows with this crew?
What I do know is this: There are some future managers on this team. I have a bunch of players who aren’t much for listening, but they love to remind the others where they need to be. They also like telling me who has already played first base and they haven’t hit yet.
Let’s start with my team on the field. The Boys of Summer take the field. Three of them are standing on first base. One might be catching. One or two might be somewhere else on the infield and ask if it’s alright where they are. My first order of the inning is to convince two of the boys on first that they need to play somewhere else. I usually tell them something like I can’t waste their arm at first base or I need someone with their speed somewhere else on the field. Something motivational that will convince them to move from the prized first base. This usually includes a promise that they can play first base later in the game.
That’s done. Players are in position. I look around to see my crew and make sure they’re ready. One is making a sand castle. Two more are practicing ninja dropkicks on the grass. My teams usually include different players doing the same things every year. I just guess who it’s going to be doing what.
Now we’re ready. Players in position. One is looking back at the concession stand. They smell something. Burgers. Chicken fingers. French fries. I remind the player they need to face forward and get ready in case the ball is hit to them. The ball is hit. The fielder fields it and the ball goes sailing over the first baseman’s head. I take this opportunity to remind everyone on the field (again) that the object of the game is to reach the first baseman’s glove, not to show how strong they are. I tell them it’s alright. There are no girls around. They don’t need to show off their strength and can save that for recess the next day.
Sometimes there will be two or three players chatting with each other in the middle of the game. Something urgent and compelling, I’m sure. These are Kindergartners and first-graders so I’m sure what’s being discussed is Earth-shattering. I break up the roundtables and direct the children’s attention to the man at the plate. I don’t need another player threatening to quit because they weren’t paying attention when the ball was hit to them and they took one on the leg or the arm. Our time on the field mercifully comes to an end and it’s our turn to bat.
Batting is a miraculous thing. Players who were tired and dying of thirst after 10 minutes on the field are suddenly filled with newfound life and energy. Boys who couldn’t stand up are suddenly men with vigor and gusto who are ready to grab a bat and face danger. I am met with “Can I hit?” “Is it my turn?” “When can I bat?” This is when I am reminded by numerous people who didn’t get the chance to hit first in any inning last time.
I give the order. This isn’t an actual “game” so it’s a different order every inning in order to make sure the same person isn’t hitting first or last every time. I give the order and, throughout our turn to bat, remind my men who is hitting next and who is on deck. I’m at home plate, sometimes; making sure the feet are where they should be, hands are positioned right, elbow bent. My player is relaxed and ready. I check his feet. I remind him of the batters box (I draw one so they know where to stand) and tell him to stay there and wait for the ball. Level swing. This is what I tell them. Bats go everywhere. Players swing at angles Trigonometry Professors have never seen before. Some players want to stand behind the plate. They draw a box where the catcher normally plays and, since there’s a box there, it’s perfectly alright for them to be there. I explain that’s not the way it works and they need to stand in a Regulation batter’s box. Sorry, Slugger. Rules are rules.
Sometimes I pitch to the budding baseball battlers. These boys are still learning how to hit without a tee, so I am careful and cautious when it comes to pitching. Sometimes, however a pitch goes awry and I hit a batter. I hate that. Not as much as the one who gets hit, but I hate it. I run to the batter, make sure they’re alright and we don’t need to amputate. He’s alright and, after some prodding and convincing from the parents, returns to the box to finish his time at the plate.
He makes contact. Infielders pile upon each other for a chance to get the ball and throw the ball. They can finally do something. The batter runs. I remind him to run the other way. He changes course. I remind him to run without the bat. He flings the bat. Suddenly, I’m Pepper Martin diving out of the way in order to avoid the incoming bat. I’m in my forties and I still have my agility.
The day comes to an end. We line up at home plate, walk past the other team, and say, “Good game.” No handshakes because of the ‘Rona. I end our session with some words of wisdom. Something to inspire the troops. The Boy and I head home where he tells me about what I need to improve on.