Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The Game Ball

Little league baseball is a funny thing. In different parts of the country it's a passion approaching college football and other spectator sports. Elsewhere it's a laid back, relaxed approach to giving kids something fun to do with their afternoons. Either way, it's one of the best ways to teach young boys and girls teamwork, sportsmanship, strategy and coordination.

Brainyboy (v9.6) is playing what's called in these parts, "Fall Ball": 9-10 year-olds playing organized, kid-pitch baseball in leagues of about eight teams in round robin format. What's different about "Fall Ball" than regular spring baseball is that play is a little more relaxed, it's more fun and there's less emphasis on competition and more on learning and enjoying the game.

Although they do keep score, wins and losses are not felt too strongly - a good thing, since our team hasn't won a game yet. But that's ok, because they're improving and most importantly learning how to play the game of baseball.

And BB - well, this is the first time he's played in a couple of years after taking some time to play soccer. He can catch pretty well but needs a lot of work on throwing and batting. He's struck out every time except for one walk, and never gotten to second base - but he's not discouraged. He's kept his chin up and acknowledges that he will get a hit sooner or later.

His fielding is minimal - most of the time he's in left field, where in this league balls are rarely hit. He's played shortstop a couple of times and third base last night, and showed me he's been watching his teammates, because he knows where to go and what to do.

Last night in the bottom of the second his team was in the field with BB in left. The other team was already ahead 6-3 or so, and was starting another rally when their hitter knocked a sharp grounder between short and third. It went into left, BB snagged it with his glove and made a sharp heads-up throw to second to hold the runner to a single. A routine play any competent outfielder would make in the big leagues, but in this league it's always a hit or miss. In fact, I can't remember a fielder actually getting to a grounder this year and they always seem to roll to the fence for extra bases. Rally temporarily averted.

After the game (we held on to lose) the coach gathers the team to talk about the game and point out players who made particularly good or smart plays. After mentioning several players, he looked at BB and said, "And with a great play in left, on a ball that was headed to the fence - the play of the night."

And tossed him the game ball.

The look on BB's face was priceless. So was mine, probably.

He walked back to the car full of good feeling and emotion, confident that sometimes all it takes is one play, one act, one small gesture to do something good. He'll continue to improve and hopefully collect more game balls. This one he'll put on the shelf next to some other mementos he's collected.

But hopefully he'll take away more than that. The knowledge that if you keep your head in the game you can accomplish anything. And make the coach proud.

And the dad.

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