The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Home Runs Are Easy (What I Overheard While Coaching Tee Ball)

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been an assistant coach on my younger son’s Tee Ball team.  Go Blue Thunder!  As you can imagine, there is quite a variety of familiarity with the game of baseball on the part of these six-year old boys and girls.  There is also a range of interest, from my son’s unnecessary dives for anything hit within forty feet of him, to a little boy who stands on third base “resting” (his words) as balls go flying past him, inches from his face.

English: A right-handed tee ball player swings...

English: A right-handed tee ball player swings at a ball on the tee. Photo taken by Vinnie Ahuja (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One little girl, cute as hell, must weigh no more than the bat she attempts to swing.  All of the kids look great in their uniforms.  Only a couple of them can actually catch the ball.  One kid, though, can hit the ball into the outfield, well over the fistful of “outfielders” we have planted on the edge of the infield dirt.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t quite know what to do once he hits the ball.  I guess that’s what we’re here for.

I get to coach third base on a regular basis, and the kids have grown used to seeing me as they run clean past, near, or around second base.  I tell them to run right toward me like I’m handing out pizza and cupcakes.  Once they reach me, I tell them when it’s O.K. to run to home plate.  I am the last adult they see before they run towards home plate, scoring a “point” or a “goal”, as a couple of them breathlessly told me they were excited to do.

My son Ian (not his real name), who never stops talking, has decided that the entire middle infield, and much of the outfield, is his domain.  He carries on a conversation with anyone and everyone around him, explaining to them how he watched an Oriole rookie pitcher on T.V. throw a ball into the outfield, “A DUMB, ROOKIE MISTAKE!” he exclaims, sounding uncomfortably like me.

He also informs the little boy on his left and the girl on his right that he’s hit maybe a hundred or even a thousand home runs, and that they’re easy to hit.  All you have to do, he explains, is swing the bat before the catcher can steal the ball out of the air.  If you swing hard, it’s an automatic home run, unless it’s a foul ball, in which case, apparently, the umpire will strike you.

Coaching third base is, in some respects, like being a priest hearing an awkward confession.  I stand there, crouching over, waiting for a response to the directions I give, then wham, I am hit by the full force of the existential mind of a six-year old.

Me:  “Eva, when the batter hits the ball, I want you to run fast to home-plate.”

Eva:  “What do I do when I get there?”

Or, from the little kid who can never seem to pay attention at any point in the game,

Me:  “Jeremy, there are two outs, so run on anything.  If he hits the ball, just run.”

Jeremy:  “Are those geese over there?”

No one keeps score, except my son who says that he keeps track of every run in his head.  According to him, our team has won all four games so far this year (we play weekly), and a typical score from his little head is usually something along the lines of 88-10.  “Dad, I can count all the way up to ten-hundred!”

The parents sit in a semi-circle around the field, collecting calories, occasionally shouting something vaguely encouraging, “Way to go, Kayla, you almost caught that ball.  Don’t let it hit you in the face next time!”  Or demeaning, “Gavin, what the hell you doin’ out there, boy? You sick or something?! GO GET THAT BALL!”

This middle-American summertime ritual plays out this way all across America, knitting our nation together one dropped pop-up at a time.  But at least at the end of the game, there will be a snack and a drink waiting for each and every player on the team.  We are very democratic that way, the least among us sharing the same amount of food and drink as the boy who really did slug a legitimate homer (although of the inside-the-park variety.)

Everyone is their own Designated Hitter, and E-5 never flashes up on a scoreboard to belittle our efforts.

Then the parents pack up their folding chairs and coolers, secure in the knowledge that they’ve invested one good, solid hour watching their child absorb the American values we all share, such as honest effort, teamwork, pride in one’s performance, picking yourself up when you fall down, and pretending to know how to do something that you are generally pretty clueless about.

My son picks up his bat and his glove, and sidles up to me as we walk back towards our car after the game.

“Dad, when you played ball when you were a kid, what color was your uniform?”

“Ian, we didn’t wear uniforms when I was a kid.  We just played in our jeans, sneakers and t-shirts.”

Ian thinks to himself for a minute before responding.

“Dad, I’m really glad they invented color.  I don’t think I’d like it if the world was black and white like it was when you were growing up.”

Laughing to myself, on so many levels, I tousle his hair as I drop the gear in the trunk.  No, nothing much is black and white anymore.  Things have gotten a shitload more complex and complicated these days.

But if you keep your hands back, your head down, and your back foot planted near the white chalk, swing at the ball before someone can take it from you, and you’ll stand a good chance of hitting the ball real far.  After all, life may be complicated, but home runs are easy.

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22 thoughts on “Home Runs Are Easy (What I Overheard While Coaching Tee Ball)

  1. You must have the patience of a saint. My oldest are only five, and a little squirrley for their age, so I can’t imagine them playing Tee-Ball. They can’t swing a wiffle bat without smacking their little brother, so it’s gonna be a while before they work up to anything more complicated than soccer.

    • Hey Smak, Well Evan is only six-years old, and yes, if I allowed him to, he would happily whack his older brother with a bat. Since I was only an assistant coach, patience wasn’t a priority. The head coach was very young, very calm and patient. He did a nice job with the kids. You never know what you’ll get out of the kids until they get involved. Sometimes it works out, and sometimes it’s a complete disaster. This one worked out, thankfully.
      Take care,
      Bill

  2. Great post, Bill, even if I’m way late in catching up with it. Those early T-ball and Little League years are special. I remember chasing after a number of kids who, surprised at hitting the ball off the tee, charged gleefully up the third-base line instead of heading toward first.

  3. Great read. It’s only been about 15 years since I was that age but it brought back a lot of memories of playing baseball as a kid. You’ve successfully captured baseball at it’s purest form, where the love of the game, the smiles on the kid’s faces, and the post-game snack matter more than the score. This has inspired a future blog post of mine, thank you!

  4. Mike Cornelius on said:

    Bill,
    This without question is one of your best! A great story, told with extraordinary eloquence.
    Mike

  5. Kevin Graham on said:

    I too helped coach my son’s tee ball team. A lot of little bodies running in all kinds of directions, but baseball all the same. It was a lot of fun.

    • I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Once these years are gone, they’re gone for good.
      Thanks, man
      Bill

      • This was fantastic Bill. Good to see you have the perspective that you get it all just once. As kids go from six, to ten, and then beyond, that ratio of parents who are relaxed versus intense inverts.

        I suspect you know that already though.

      • Thanks, Michael. Yeah, my older son is in the 9-10 year old group, and the parents are more intense, yelling at the ump already, and displaying ignorant behavior. I’ll only do this for as long as my boys show a real interest. Once they are bored with it, I’m done as well.
        Take care,
        Bill

  6. Great story, Bill, you are creating wonderful memories.

    P.S. Deep down, ya gotta love Jeremy.

  7. Back when my son had his first tee ball year (I think they had color that far back, you’d have to check), there was a kid who spent the inning in the field sitting down watching for bugs. The coach offered him a quarter to stand up the entire inning. Damned if the kid didn’t make it (I think the kid went on to be an accountant or something). God love Tee Ball.
    Great job, Bill.
    v

  8. I’ve found out that it’s OK for your kids to talk about your athletic exploits ocurring before the existence of color, but it’s not quite as clever to mention anything about your wife’s youth happening in such a context.

    This is a marvelous post, Bill, absolutely top-shelf.

    • Thanks, W.k. I’m clearly the old man around here. Mommy is timeless mommy. It never even occurs to my kids to discuss her age, or the fact that she even has a past.
      Cheers, Bill

  9. it’s a good thing kids carry that invincible feeling around, but still, i would never want to go back. great post!

  10. This is great, Bill. I also started coaching this year (as an assistant on my son’s team). So much I could share about it, but I figured I’d share one of my conversations I had with a baserunner as first base coach…

    Me: “Okay Bobby (not his real name), as soon as she hits the ball you’re going to run as hard as you can to second. Before you get there, look at Coach Brian and see if he wants you to come to third base. Okay?”

    Bobby: “Sometimes, when I have a lot of money I like to throw it up in the air and yell ‘LOOK AT ALL THE MONEY I HAVE!!!’.”

    ME: “…”

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