Take Me Out to the Ball Game

“I might be a little nervous because I’ve never done this before,” June said as she got dressed for t-ball practice yesterday morning. I assured her that a lot of the kids would be in the same boat and that they’d all learn the game together. June’s playing in t-ball league for five and six year olds this summer and there was an all-teams skills clinic yesterday to give the kids an idea of the fundamentals before the first game next Saturday.

Noah was really sweet. He stooped down to get on her level and said, “You’ll be wonderful.” He’s not at all interested in sports, but he’s always been supportive of her when she’s been on a team. When she played soccer, he often came to her practices. He stayed home yesterday but he’s planning to come next week to film her first game.

In the car on the way to the field June kept up a stream of non-stop chatter. She does this when she’s nervous. Among other things, she wanted to talk about winning and losing. She’s very interested in this aspect of the game because when she played soccer, there were no games, just practices, and t-ball has real games. Noah played when he was five so we know it’s a very laid back league, with the emphasis on building skills and having fun. No official even keeps score, but June wants to know whether she has won or lost, so she will be keeping score in her head, no doubt.

Once we arrived at the field she got quiet. There were one hundred and twenty players there with their parents, siblings and grandparents. It was a huge and overwhelming crowd. After a lot of announcements, the coaches set up the skills stations for the kids to visit. Though there were more boys than girls attending overall, June ended up in small, female-dominated group that moved through the stations together. I was glad on both counts. In the smaller group she loosened up and even if her team is mostly boys (which it probably will be) she will at least start her t-ball career with the idea that this is something girls can do as well as boys can. That seemed to be the case in her group anyway. The best player was a tall, lanky girl.

June’s group consisted of three boys (one of whom disappeared about halfway through the practice) and four girls. One of them had attended June’s nursery school in the class one year ahead of June’s (co-incidentally she was the Great Blue Heron of her class) and June knows her from summer camp last year. I’m sure it was nice for June to see a familiar face and Beth and I also know the Elder Heron’s mom so we could chat.

The stations were catching and throwing, batting, catching wiffle balls in plastic cones (to practice getting under the ball), running the bases and catching grounders. As June caught a ball in the cone and Beth and I cheered, I realized what an advantage it is to June, being Noah’s little sister. He’s never been particularly athletic so whenever she demonstrates basic competence, we cheer as if she’s qualified for the Olympics. She does seem to have a good arm, I have to say, though, and she connected with the ball pretty easily when it was time to bat.

By the third station, June was asking if she could play t-ball again the summer she’s six. Beth said yes, but suggested we get through this season before thinking about the next one. By the last station, the kids had been running around on a muggy morning for almost an hour and a half and they were tired and sweaty. The coach gave a little talk about staying alert while fielding. He asked if you should take a nap in the field (“even if you want to now”) and lay down on the grass to demonstrate. The kids laughed and said no. “Why not?” he asked.

“Because we won’t win,” the Elder Heron said, surprising the coach a little, and making the cluster of parents laugh. He probably expected something like because they wouldn’t catch the ball, but the Elder Heron went right to the big picture. I think she and June might be kindred spirits. I hope they end up on the same team.

After the last station, June was pink-cheeked and she had finished all the water in her bottle a couple stations back. But before we left, we needed to stand in a line of people with questions to find who June’s coach will be. However, though the recreation department official was able to confirm she is registered, we weren’t able to get her team assignment. We still don’t know if she’s playing on a 9:00 a.m. team or a 10:30 team (we’re supposed to get an email); nevertheless, I think she got off to a good start.

As we left the field, Beth asked June if she liked t-ball and she said it was too tiring, but she perked up when Beth said we could go to Starbucks, thus continuing an after-soccer tradition. In the car on the way there she asked again if there would be real games and if there would be winning and losing. She predicted her team would win sometimes and lose sometimes. I said that was probably about right. When Noah played t-ball he was so uninterested in the question of which team won or who lost I never kept track. If you’ve ever watched a t-ball game, you know that most little kids, with some coaching, can learn to hit, but very few of them ever learn to field, so most of the time, the scores are quite high for both teams. I imagine keeping track is not as easy as it might be in soccer. This year, though, I think I might be keeping track in my head along with June because my girl wants to win, and we’ll need to know if we’re celebrating or plotting how to do better next time on the way to Starbucks.