Budge likes to support her children when she knows they play a sport so tonight we trekked out to Heritage Park to see one of her fourth graders pitch. Now, Heritage Park is a beautiful facility with six regulation fields that have excellent seating, backstops, and dugouts. The infields are manicured and the outfields are free of yellow dandelion heads. These facilities are parsecs away from the diamonds of my youth.
The players haven’t changed quite as much though.
First of all, the group we were watching was the first year kid pitcher threw the ball at kid batter instead of some tee or coach providing the target. That in and of itself is one scary proposition. I mean, they’re fourth graders. Ask any of them and they’ll all assure you they can be the next Nolan Ryan or Greg Maddux. Well, they can’t. If a coach can find a kid who can throw the ball across the plate about belt high roughly four out of five times, he has an ace. If the kid happens to be left handed, he’s got a shot at the championship! Of course, it’s always funny to see a team facing their first lefty. Once when I was watching a similar age group much earlier in the season, the first batter to face the fielding team’s left-hander shouted to his coach, “Hey, Coach! What do I do? He’s standing on the wrong side of the pitcher’s mound!!”
Just as an aside, if Budge and I are ever blessed with a son (doubtful at this point, but hope does spring eternal), I have already decided that I’m going to duct tape a baseball into his LEFT hand and superglue a glove onto his right hand as soon as he can toddle then pray that he takes after his maternal grandfather and makes 6′ 2″ tall. That’s pretty much my retirement plan because if you know anything about baseball, you know the Majors are woefully short on southpaw pitchers.
Watching the boys play tonight reminded me of the two fitful seasons I attempted to be a baseball player. It was not a pleasant recollection. First of all, I was short, but I made up for it by being fat. Plus, I ran slower than a three legged turtle crossing a glacier in January. Finally, I had the hand-eye coordination of a blind rhesus monkey with cerebral palsy. In short, I was the model tee-ball right fielder. For those of you who don’t know, no one in tee-ball hits to right field. You have to be left handed and get the ball past the first baseman. Both are rarities in tee-ball leagues. Right field is pretty much the Vice-Presidency of a tee-ball team. If a little league coach is faced with where to play a complete non-athlete, right field is first choice every time.
It was so bad, I was known to not come in for our side’s at bats. I’d often just stay out in right field with the opposing team’s short, dumpy, clumsy clone of me. Made a lot of friends that way. Picked a lot of dandelions too. Once, while I was in the midst of a daydream, I even got hit in the head with a fly ball. I was so excited to actually be so close to an actual ball that I picked it up and chucked it into the infield. That’s when I found out it was foul ball from the adjacent field.
I hung up my glove and cleats after tee-ball though. I wasn’t nearly brave enough to stand at the plate with nothing between me and that hurtling ball but my skill with a bat. I was a coward, but I was an unbruised coward.
Tonight’s game, however, was a bloodless affair. Only one batsman was hit by a pitch. Both pitchers were fairly capable and overall, it was a fun event to watch. Of course, one of the most precious moments was watching both right fielders. Both were paragons of intensity, coiled steel waiting to unleash their skills on the first ball to come their way. I couldn’t help but smile and think, “It’s okay, kid. I saw a lefty or two in the batting order. Just be patient.”
Love y’all. Keep those feet clean!