Saturday morning broke bright and early as we dragged our folding lawn chairs and ourselves to the chain link fence near third base where my grandson was playing in a Little League baseball game. If only Little League baseball was not so early, I thought, as I swigged coffee and tried to wake up.
Some of the parents had been at the ball field for hours already as the players in the first game of the day wound up their game. Those were the youngest kids in the league; some of them still having trouble trying to avoid striking out even in tee-ball, their little legs barely long enough to run the bases.
What in the world could possess this many people to sit on hard bleachers on a dusty field when they could be at home mowing the lawn or doing laundry? On second thought, who wants to do chores and housework when you have kids as a perfect excuse to avoid work? As Yogi Berra said: “Little League baseball is a good thing ’cause it keeps the parents off the streets and it keeps the kids out of the house.”
Little League Baseball is the world’s largest youth sports organization with approximately 2.8 million players worldwide. The purpose of the adults is to teach kids sportsmanship, teamwork, and fair play. The purpose of the kids is to play with their friends, avoid doing anything embarrassing, and drink Gatorade. They also learn to study ants crawling across their shoes while playing outfield, as well as how to chase the hits that get by them during ant study.
At least some of the kids look like ball players in their new baseball uniforms as they kick dirt with rubber-spiked shoes, and remove caps to wipe sweat from their foreheads. We try not to notice when they stare upward and watch the birds flying over the field instead of paying attention to the game.
The opposing team stretches a single into a home run when the shortstop misses the ball and the outfielders all run into each other while trying to figure out who should field the ball. Fortunately, in this league teams are only allowed to score a limited number of runs during one inning.
The baseball glove, which is so big that we wondered how my grandson would keep it on his hand, suddenly shrinks to the size of a postage stamp when a fly ball comes in his direction. We do not understand how this can happen as the gloves of the opposing team always double or triple in size and snag fly balls in midair that should go over the fence.
In sports kids learn to model the behavior of adults, so it is important that parents and coaches show good sportsmanship, regardless of how bad the call is that the umpire makes or how obvious it is that he is blind. We want to teach the kids sportsmanship and that good clean competition means something entirely different than not getting your uniform dirty while sliding into home plate.
Except for learning how to avoid tripping over their shoelaces or being binged by a fly ball, the baseball skills are really secondary for most kids who will never play profession ball. The important part is learning social skills and values that will teach them to participate in community activities as adults. In Little League kids learn how to be good losers and graceful winners. Adults learn how to bite their tongues and set a good example.
It was a great day at the ballpark when the teams lined up to congratulate each other. My grandson’s team somehow managed to win in spite of the strikeouts, balls that were thrown away, gnats that were swatted, grass that grew on home plate, and the players’ interest in unusual cloud formations.
There’s nothing like the great American pastime, even for kids.
Copyright 2007 Sheila Moss