Yesterday was the Pee Wee Marlins’ first game — Isaac’s first experience with organized sports, and my first time coaching an organized team in something non-poetry related. 15 kids (one didn’t show up), all 5 and 6-year olds, most of whom were playing tee ball for the first time.
It was a little bit herding cats, a little bit America’s Funniest Home Videos, and a whole lot of fun.
We had the first slot in the morning schedule, an 8:30am game on a brisk morning that had a few of the kids keeping their coats on while playing. Most of them got there on time, and I was there before the other team’s coach, so we started practice with batting and running to first base, a concept not nearly as simple as it might seem. They all got the hang of it pretty quickly, though, and it’s the one aspect of the game everyone gets to partake in as each inning involves the full lineup getting a turn at bat, with the last kid running the bases all the way around to clear the way for changing sides. It’s a pretty ingenious way to teach the offensive mechanics without an emphasis on the competition, especially in the first inning or two where the fielding isn’t up to par, so many of the kids move from base to base and ultimately score.
You don’t realize how complex a game baseball can be, though, until you try to explain the fundamentals of a fielding a ground ball to a 5-year old.
A batted ball is like candy falling from a pinata, as they would all instinctively run towards it — all 14 of them, not counting the first baseman, as in Tee Ball, everybody plays the field at once! — scrambling to be the first one to get it, and if not that, than to be the one to snatch it away so they could be the one to throw it to first base. If, of course, in all the excitement, they remembered which direction first base was in…
And sometimes the excitement of simply fielding it successfully would be enough that they’d forget to throw it to first base at all. 🙂
By the third (last) inning, we were gouging lines into the dirt to indicate their set positions and instructing them not to move unless the ball came near them. “You’re a team. Let your teammate get the ball if it comes to him or her.” Once that set in, it became a little less comical and you could see which kids had some natural talent for the game, among them, one of the ones I’d “scouted” on the first day when teams were being drafted, a 6-year old girl who scooped up everything that came her way and by the third inning had properly gauged the distance to first base and threw 3 or 4 kids out.
Probably no coincidence that her aunt volunteered to be one of my assistant coaches, all three of whom (including Dan, who Salomé volunteered!) were invaluable in keeping things flowing smoothly throughout the game.
Isaac had a great time playing, and while he didn’t get any action on the field — we shuffle the kids around every inning, but most of the hits are dribblers to the first line of defense — he enjoyed batting and running the bases. He’s hit before, but never with an aluminum bat nor as heavy a ball, but he’s got the basic swing mechanics down pretty well. I explained to him that fielding is an important part of playing baseball, DH be damned, and that he has to practice that, too, if he wants to be a baseball player, which became appealing to him when he realized last week that it wasn’t just a game:
Isaac: “But where do they [baseball players] work when they’re not playing?”
Me: “Baseball is their work. That’s what they do.”
Isaac: “Oh! I want to be a baseball player then!”
While we were on offense, I felt like I was back on stage at 13, announcing each batter and imploring the team and assembled parents to applaud. At least twice I had to do the old, “You parents are starting to slip a little bit. Where’s the noise? Give it up for the Marlins!” It was a little surreal — particularly rooting on the Marlins as opposed to the Mets! — but very, very fun. I hadn’t noticed, but Salomé said the other team wasn’t doing anything similar to hype their kids or parents up.
Speaking of the parents, there doesn’t seem to be a stereotypical “Little League Mom” or “Dad” in the bunch; just a group of parents really excited about their kids playing Tee Ball who are willing to get up early on a Saturday morning for them to have the opportunity. For all the years I’ve lived in the Bronx and proclaimed it as my own, I’ve never felt quite as connected to the borough as I do right now.
It’s rewarding in a special way that only working with kids can be, and honestly, as willing as I am to move to New Jersey next year when we’re ready to buy a house, there’s a part of me that would rather figure out a way to make it work here in the Bronx because I could see myself doing this for a long time. Doing it in Jersey would be fun, too, I’m sure, but it wouldn’t compare. Not even close.