T-ball is perhaps the most dangerous sport I’ve ever experienced- as a coach or athlete- twentyish preschoolers and kindergarten friends wielding bats, throwing errant balls (still hard and hurtful despite being “soft”), wearing mitts with little intention or ability of actually catching. And when the ball does mysteriously land in the glove, we celebrate with plenty of “woohoos” and thumbs up. The “team” is practically identical to my soccer roster this fall, only the accessories accelerate the heart rate and get me stuck on repeat with the “safety talk.” In all fairness, it’s probably a sport more difficult to watch from the sidelines- to see the danger of it all- to observe your child throw a ball at a partner who is listening to a dog bark on another field or watching the wind blow the little hairs on his arm and, by nothing short of a miracle, the ball your kid has thrown narrowly misses his partner by inches. And then you breathe again.
For me, it’s helping to keep the infield safe and ALERT to the batters who are coordinated enough to knock a line drive down to second base. You can tell by their practice swing that this isn’t their first time up to bat; they have the swing through like an older brother or sister or parent has clearly been working with them at home. And in that moment, you are caught up by the beauty of a little kid who can’t jump rope but has the level headed swing and power to connect with a small white sphere. Then you are snapped back to the reality of the roving fielders– little guys and girls spinning their sneakers around in the dirt and fluffing up the sand or putting their glove down to sit on, needing to rest a spell. Mind you, this rest is on the pitcher’s mount. “Everyone in a ready position,” I yell again, worried that this batter could take someone’s head off. I move and pray and move and pray some more that someone doesn’t take a direct hit to the nose. Tears are shed regularly over little things like, “I need my dad here to play with me” or “Grandma said she would be here to watch” or “This is just too cold (or hot) a day for me to play” or “I can’t find my very special new glove I brought to practice” or “I’d really like a turn to bat now” or, my favorite, “Did you know last week my brother took my best truck and hid it from me– did you know that’s why I’m sad?” No, little one, I did not know…
Then, a particularly proud parenting moment, when I physically remove my 60 pound kindergartner from the field for not listening. He’s my own kid, of course, and I did not hesitate to put my hands on his sweaty, dirty, unlistening body. Then, I laid him gently on the grass out in front of parents on the side of the field telling him he could not participate if he couldn’t pull it together. One of these moments when I wished Geoff could walk and just quickly intervene, but no, Geoff was there at the top of the hill, watching, supporting, being present– from his racing wheelchair, of little to no help to me actually. Enter stage right: Sylvie Clark, another understanding and helpful parent, who reached for him and said, “Why don’t I bring you up to your dad for a minute.” She knew. Maybe she feared for his safety, but she knew I needed help in that way parents instinctively know and provide backup support. For the most part, we take the “divide and conquer approach” to practice, breaking our bee hive of activity into three smaller colonies to practice the basics: throwing, catching, hitting, and running. These busy bees buzz with energy, distraction, the need for water, or a warmer coat, or a lighter weight shirt, or a snack, or a hug from mom or, “Hey, look, my dad just got here.” One of our youngest took a few minutes on Saturday during a water break to explain to me that the red side of his glove was strawberry flavored and the backside, which was black and white, was, in fact, chocolate and vanilla. Ollie smiled up at me, so proud, so unaware that at any moment he could take a ball to the cheek or the shin or worse. He is just so jazzed up about his first organized foray into sport, and this is what makes the organized (and I laugh even writing the term organized) chaos fun. They just want to be together on a field pretending if not actually being a t-ball player.
Our head coach, Stuart Anderson, is super organized as is his wife, Annie, which I thoroughly appreciate as it provides the appropriate structured facade for parents that we are in control of the various weapons our children will play with in the hour we are together twice a week. But from the minute we do our warm up jog, to our circle stretching, to some little relay games, to breaking into our smaller groups, it is “LOOK ALIVE AT ALL TIMES” because you never really know what could happen. There are some kids who just feel safer wearing their bike helmet the entire practice. There are some who squeeze their eyes shut when the ball is thrown at them. Where is the manual which describes exactly what “a safe distance is” apart is from the other partner when throwing?
Thank you, parents, for giving up your “free time” when you could just drop your kid off and go get something done– but most of you don’t. Most of you stay to watch your kid (and laugh at us lovingly). Most of you jump in when needed wherever and whenever. For example, I did not ever imagine base running really required an adult at each plate. After three weeks, I thought they would know where to run, but they don’t, and that’s okay! And if your kid does take a hit somewhere on his/her body, I’m sorry– I’ve especially sorry if my own kid inflicted it– but chances are it was an accident and those who survive T-ball are sure to handle those challenges that come next on the child development continuum. See you at the field!