Monday, May 24, 2010

Batter up !!

They swing; they miss. They pound the plate; they corkscrew into the dust around home plate. They are so anxious, they nearly clock their coach while he is adjusting their hands on the bat. They slide into first, slide into second, run through the stop sign from the third base coach and tippy-toe to home plate to avoid the next batter who is also over enthusiastic and has snuck up to the plate. The happy runner stomps on home with both feet.

In the field, they watch the ball. Most of the time. Sometimes one's hat must be adjusted. Sometimes a teammate's stance just looks so good that it must be emulated. Sometimes, inexplicably, there is some action beyond the game that must be observed, even if it means turning one's back on the plate. Sometimes an at bat takes just a pitch or so too long and the 'ey batta stance becomes a squat in the dust of the infield.

This is t ball II and it is in the best tradition of so many facets of sports and summer. Its local; around here, that still means a pretty good hike between games, but nothing beyond the next county. Its casual; the early arrivals park close enough to sit in their cars, but most of us pull out camp chairs and water jugs and cheer from any shady spot on the sideline. Its relaxed; younger kids clamber up the bleachers or roll down the slope. 

 The players know the final score; the adults have no idea. Everyone plays, everyone bats, the dads pitch and the games end after three innings or one hour. Each inning last three outs or five runs. Guess which outcome is most likely? Hence casual; hence relaxed. It will all be over before anyone gets too tired, too sunburned, or even too thirsty. Though some of the senior members of the crowd leave because it is suppertime.

Aaron and Gus are our family representatives on the Tarkio team. Aaron has played exactly one year of ball. And notice I didn't qualify that year as "organized" ball. Gus is an old hand; he wears Albert Pujols' number 5 and sports a massive Jim Edmonds' uppercut swing. When he connects, the ball goes a long ways. I can see Aaron linking cause and effect: Gus pounds the plate, Gus hits a home run. Next time up, Aaron pounds the plate too.

This game, the fans can actually keep track of which team is ahead. One inning, the little Mound City kids hit three ground balls to the Tarkio pitcher. He tosses the ball over to first before the runners cross the plate. Its not a three up, three down inning, but a three out inning may not occur at this level of play for the rest of the season. When Tarkio heads to the dugout after their last at bat, whoops of excitement roll across the field before the boys file out and slap hands and chant 'good game'. The kids have a "win" under their belts to brag about amongst themselves and recap to any family not in attendance.

Sure enough, my phone rings about 10 minutes after we get home. Its Aaron and he's telling me "We won! 14 to 5!" Then he asks me if I heard them yelling in the dugout. 'Yes, I did,' I say,' You should be excited to win your first game'.
'Do you think Mound City heard us?' he asks. 'I don't know, Aaron. They were probably listening to their coaches talk about the game.' 'Well, I didn't want their feelings to be hurt.'

I reassured him that it was OK to be happy with winning and their team had come out afterwards to meet and greet. But I saved that moment to tell his mommy and daddy later on. Its good to hit the pitch; its good to score a run, and maybe one of these days Aaron will also catch a ball or throw a runner out. But it only took one game to realize the guys in the other dugout are just like him and to live up to that age old saw:

'Its not how you win or lose, its how you play the game.'...

Or in this case, celebrate afterwards....

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