Little League baseball, May 2010 – 12

(more details later, as time permits)

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While football may reign as the most popular sport, and while basketball and its slam-dunk shots may have the most dramatic flair, baseball is still the game that most American kids instinctively turn too when springtime arrives. When I was a kid, we mostly played “pick-up” games with whatever kids happened to be around; and we played in dirt lots, grass fields, or — if you lived in the city — on the streets.

Anyone who had a bat or a ball was pretty much guaranteed to get chosen for one of the teams, because there were no leagues or clubs or after-school program to provide gear and equipment. There were never enough baseball gloves to go around, so everyone had to share; I always considered myself lucky, because I was left-handed and none of the other kids wanted to use my left-handed baseball glove…

Over the years, things have changed; and when I watch my young grandson playing baseball, he and his teammates are wearing handsome, spiffy-clean uniforms together with all the equipment they could ever need. Half a dozen baseballs are available, in case one gets lost or fouled into unreachable territory. Half a dozen aluminum bats are lying around; and there’s a fancy pitching machine to ensure that pitches will be thrown at a reasonable speed, in the general vicinity of the strike zone. Several of the kids’ parents are there, too, as coaches and assistant coaches and would-be coaches and has-been coaches — all shouting words of encouragement and congratulations to the kids as they go through their paces. As you’ll see from the attached photos, though, there’s one piece of advice they might consider giving to the kids a little more often: “Keep your eyes open, and look at the ball when you’re swinging your bat!”

One of the best changes, though, is that these kids were all having a good time. I remember from my own childhood that there was usually at least one fist-fight caused by a bad call — we had no umpires, so we shouted our own opinions about strikes, balls, and whether someone was safe or out at the plate). It wasn’t unusual to see someone hit by a pitched ball, or knocked flat on his back when someone slid into base; nor was it unusual to see someone storm off the field because of a missed catch, or an inopportune strikeout. There were no leagues, no championships, no prizes to be won or lost — but we tended to play each game as if it was a matter of life and death. Friendships did not always survive the outcome of these sandlot baseball games.

Happily, that too seems to have changed. When I watched my grandson and all of his fellow players on the field, I saw nothing but good sportsmanship. Even the parents behaved themselves — there was a lot of yelling and shouting, but it was all positive. Lots of cheers, lots of smiles; I think everyone of the kids really enjoyed the game…

But some of us old-timers were still keeping score. My grandson got four RBI’s (he swears it was five, but I only saw four), and his team won 6-2. Or maybe it was 6-4. Or maybe it was something else. At the end of the day, it didn’t really matter. What mattered was that everyone had a good time…

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