Walking through my town’s small baseball park the other morning, I was struck by a bit of nostalgia. This was unexpected, considering what I’m usually struck by when the Cedar Company bird squadron begins its morning maneuvers. With spring approaching, first-year tee-ballers were scattered around the field with their fathers, who were imparting basic hitting and fielding fundamentals, baserunning technique, and clarifying that running home didn’t mean crossing the highway alone.
Watching this, I was reminded of working with my oldest daughter in preparation for her first season of tee-ball
five eight ten not long ago. As you’d expect, we bought a mitt, ball, practice tee and all the equipment necessary to get started on the basics. For obvious reasons, I saw no need to purchase an athletic cup — until I decided to advise her about batting stance, at which point it became obvious that I should have.
At least for myself.
Though practice ended a little early that first day, we were back at it the following afternoon — my daughter with her bat and a look of determination, and me offering advice and encouragement a safe distance away with my bull horn. It was one of those rare father/daughter moments that didn’t last long enough, yet allowed enough time for a neighbor to threaten to shove my bull horn somewhere that isn’t located on any ball field.
With that, we decided to try some fielding practice; I’d hit the ball to her, and she’d practice leaping on it with her eyes closed. Before we could do that, however, I had to actually HIT the ball. In my defense, I was using her bat, which was roughly the size of a cucumber. Also in my defense, let me just say that a cucumber and I have about the same degree of hand-eye coordination. Yet, between the two of us, we STILL couldn’t hit the ball.
As a father, this is very embarrassing.
As a cucumber, it’s no big deal.
On the other hand, I recognized this was a good opportunity to teach my daughter about the importance of not giving up and how, through patience and determination, you can do anything.
I say this all in retrospect, having hurled her cucumber bat over the top of the house in a fit of frustration.
In spite of all this, when it came time for our daughter’s first official tee-ball practice, we felt ready.
For those of you who’ve never watched tee-ball, the rules are roughly the same as baseball; the ball is hit, the batter runs the bases, and 15 infielders throw their mitts at the ball in order to stop it. Once that is accomplished, everyone runs to a spot about eight inches in front of home plate, where the ball has usually landed after gravity — and a solid whack to the neck of the tee — has advanced the ball.
This isn’t always the case, however. In fact, some of the kids I saw could really hit the ball. Which was good. Because if not for them, the outfielders walking around with mitts on their faces pretending to be monsters might not have seen any action at all.
In the end, it’s really the ability to cover your face with your mitt and run around in circles until you trip over a sprinkler head that separates tee-ball from Major League Baseball (not counting Darryl Strawberry). I’d even say that professional baseball could learn a thing or two from tee-ball.
But not before I learn how to hit the ball with a cucumber.
(Ned Hickson is a syndicated columnist with News Media Corporation. This has been a shameless excerpt from his first book, Humor at the Speed of Life, available from Port Hole Publications, Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.)