Monday, May 30, 2016

There Is Crying in Tee-Ball

My 5-year-old son turned to me as he laid on his mother’s pillow a few weeks back, his eyes wide and one arm tucked behind his head, and he posed a hope-filled question.

“Do you think I’ll hit a homerun?”
He was talking about his fast-approaching first day of tee-ball, and the question made me smile.

“Most little boys don’t hit homeruns on their first day,” I replied, trying to dampen his expectations without crushing his dream.
He raised the stakes. “What if I hit the ball and it goes out of the stadium?”

I laughed gently, “Do you think there’s going to be a stadium?”
He nodded.

What I wouldn’t give to swim around in his little brain, brimming with out-sized notions of the world and an imagination not yet tainted by reality.
It was a sweet moment.

It’s been a few weeks since our homerun chat, and the sweetness has begun to wear off of tee-ball’s flavor profile.

It feels like tee-ball is our life. That’s a total exaggeration, but with two games each weekend it certainly takes up more than its share of our lives currently. The first game of the weekend is Saturdays at 6 p.m., the second Sunday at 1 p.m., making it physically impossible to do anything else significant on the weekend without skipping out on his team. In my book, no sport should take up both days of the weekend unless there are college scouts in attendance.
Our little Yankee, taking a
water break between innings.
It’s really a bit much, especially the Saturday night game. These are 4 and 5-year-olds, after all. The evening game ends after half their bedtimes. 
I've found myself sitting there wondering what it’s all for?

No body’s keeping score. There’s no concept of strikes, let alone outs. And, any semblance of positions in the field immediately collapses whenever anyone hits it beyond the pitcher’s mound and all the infielders and most of the outfielders race for the ball like a pack of wild dogs, climbing on top of each other in a scrum, while the bewildered batter stands there admiring their hit until a parent yells, “Run to first.” Then said hitter saunters off to first base – sometimes by way of third base – and a well-meaning coach yells at the pile of fielders, “Throw the ball to first.”
When the ball finally gets thrown to the first baseman, who remarkably didn’t join the mob chasing the ball, it bounces at his feet and rolls out of play. He eventually picks it up and, upon verbal instructions, throws it home, so it can be re-teed and the next batter can take a whack.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s a blast watching kid after kid hit infield singles until the whole line up has a chance to bat and the inning ends, over and over again. But I often wonder, as our whole family sits there, why exactly we signed up for this tee-ball adventure?
I mean, I know why we signed up for it: The boy asked if he could play baseball, and it seemed like the logical first step. He’s always loved the thought of the sport, even deciding at 3-weeks-old that “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” was the only song that would stop him from bawling.   
But why in a grander, more metaphysical sense. Like why does tee-ball exist at all? Other than learning which direction to run around the bases? Are the kids really getting anything out of it?
Nobody pitches (which is good because these kids couldn’t throw a strike to save their lives). Nobody catches (a fact I was delighted to realize after a preseason panic attack when I worried my son was the only 5-year-old in America who couldn’t catch … he’s not). Strikes and balls and outs will be introduced later (In fact, even if infielders are lucky enough to gather the ball and get it to first before the runner, the runner stays on base). And they only play 2 to 3 innings (which somehow still feels like 9 innings). When it ends, everyone decides to go for ice cream, which is what they really wanted to do in the first place.
Couldn’t we just distribute a packet of rules and diagrams to the parents and agree to meet back in a few years, once the whole hand-eye coordination thing starts to take hold?
Do we do it just for the pictures? Cause, I’ll admit, they do look pretty darn cute dressed up like real life baseball players. I learned this when they scheduled the team pictures for the second week of the season. And we’re not talking about soccer team pictures where everyone just gathers in front of the goal after a game – usually toward the end of the season. No, this is the real deal of team pictures, with forms to fill out saying how many of different sized photos you want in your expensive photo package. And don’t forget the baseball card style wallet-sized ones.
I’m sorry, but having played only one game in his career before picture day, what exactly should the back of this rookie card say? He’s batting 1000, but still learning to catch?
I also learned something else at team picture day: that a full plastic bottle of water can work as an emergency eye wash. All you have to do is have the patient look into the bottle, then give it a quick and vigorous squeeze. It totally works, trust me.
An explanation seems in order.
Brief aside:

We arrived at team picture day to find all the other players in the league waiting in a long line that snaked out the door of the village recreation building. Our whole team wasn’t there yet.  So, we had some time to kill. My child decided to spend this time climbing a small flowing tree with two other kids from his team.
Then, something went in his eye, and he started crying. No. Screaming. Like blood curdling, “MY EYE! MY EYE! THERE”S SOMETHING IN MY EYE!” type stuff. It unraveled everyone in the line in an instant. I took him to the bathroom, trying to flush out the eye with my hand and the faucet water. I laid him down on a table, then on the sidewalk, then on the ground, all the while trying to examine the eye and pour a paper cup of water in it. I couldn’t get him to stop screaming. This was snot-bubbling and whaling-arms-when-he-wasn’t-restrained type screaming.
An eye doctor happened to be there with her tee-baller and came over to consult and console. She couldn’t see anything in the eye, and said was likely scratched. I, however, could tell by his fluctuating screams that whatever was there was still there. I’m not a doctor, just a parent.  
So, I devised a plan. (They say necessity is the mother of invention). I remembered I had some plastic water bottles in the car. They were warm, unopened, and just a parking lot away. I ran like Usain Bolt while my boy’s big sister kept him still on the ground for me. Once back with a water bottle, I had him look into it, which took some convincing. Then I quick squeezed it, rushing water into his eye and all over his face and clothes. At first he screamed louder, slightly shocked by my move. Then, within five seconds, he magically said, “It feels better.”
Whatever it was, it was out.
Time had passed during the eye episode and, as it turned out, his team was just lining up for their official photo in the makeshift studio with the professional photographer’s lights. We rushed him in and he took his place. He’s the one in the photo with the drenched jersey and the look like he just finished a 20-minute scream.  
Needless to say, we didn’t order the wallet-sized ones.
Aside over.
The photo was just one of the less-than-sweet episodes in our young season that has now included a game played in 42 degree rain (the local minor league baseball team cancelled their game that day, but we played on), a game in 90+ degree sun, and a few more Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons in between.
I love watching my kid "bat," for sure, but when did tee-ball get so bad?
I remember playing the sport when I was a kid, and loving the cheering crowd, and the thrill of being at bat. Come to think of it, I really remember the feeling of making it to home base … usually after a series of infield singles by me and my teammates.
It’s starting to make sense again.
Now there’s an update to this one tee-ball story.
This past weekend our boy hit a home run. Actually, he hit two in the same game. And not just any home runs, but grand slams. (Full disclosure: the last batter at bat every inning gets to circle the bases, with all the other runners on base also getting to go home – most even run the right direction. They call it a home run. And so do we).
He got picked to bat last in the game, hitting the ball both times roughly near the pitchers mound, and then circling the bases all the way home.
When it was over, I congratulated him, “You hit a home run, buddy,”
“No,” he replied. “I hit two.”
I smiled deeply.
Tee-ball is such a sweet sport.


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