One summer when I was in high school, I helped out coaching the local Summer Rec T-Ball team. My favorite T-Ball moment of all time happened that summer when one of the opposing shorties spanked a hot, bases-loaded ground ball to our own little shortstop, name of Darren Johnson. Darren somehow scooped the grounder up cleanly (always a miraculous development when a T-Ball grounder is thusly handled), and that’s where the fun began.
Suddenly, the action was fierce. Since the bases were full, there were runners digging for station-to-station safety in all directions. Including…
- The batter chugging to first.
- The baserunner on first hotfooting it to second.
- The baserunner on second who had broken for third but had then frozen having seen Darren directly in his path.
- The baserunner on third sprinting for some home plate glory.
But that’s not all, because…
- Little Damien Miller, our third baseman, was calling for Darren to throw it to him, just a short toss away. And Darren and Damien were pretty good friends, increasing the attractiveness of this option.
- Travis Herding was yodeling for Darren to throw over to second to start the 6-4-3 double play. Highly unlikely, but still a remote possibility.
- Corey Fishel was holding his glove aloft at first—his expectant posture suggesting, Why not throw it here? First base is always a decent option.
- Jeremiah Missling, the catcher, was waving his arms and jumping up and down on top of home plate, his every fiber suggesting, Throw it here, throw it here! Save the run! By god, man—throw it here!
And then you have to add in the advice coming, not so gently, from in the stands. Damien Miller’s parents and a motley collection of Travis Herding’s siblings—of which there were many—and Corey Fishel’s dad and Jeremiah Missling’s mom, not to mention everybody else. And if you think the coaches were the only ones keeping quiet, well, you’ll have to think again.
As Darren spun toward third, then second, then home, then first, then third again, the situation was clearly spinning out of control. The look on Darren’s face showed that he knew he had to do something soon, but what it was exactly that he should do was becoming more and more unclear. Again he twirled toward each bag in turn, doing a perfect pirouette. Throw it Darren, throw it!
When he started the third pirouette, I knew that Darren was unlikely to help our team record an out on that particular play. This notion was soon cemented when Darren finally stopped, dizzied, and fired the ball deep into left-center field.
The game of baseball is a complex one. If you don’t think so, try explaining to a kid sometime why a foul ball is a strike, but you can’t strike out when hitting a foul ball. And then go ahead and try explaining a sacrifice fly. Or a balk. Or the Infield Fly Rule. But don’t let that stop you from encouraging a kid to learn.
I’m not going to lie when I say that I had to try multiple ways to get my son Archie, who’s seven, interested in baseball. We watched games on TV, went to games, played video games, and got out there in the yard and even on the diamond. Things never took off for him until this summer, his first year of bona fide T-Ball in the Mankato Area Youth Baseball Association (MAYBA). He got a great hat, his first pair of cleats (which I’m fairly certain he snuck in his backpack and wore to school one day late in the school year), and a real leather mitt that smelled only like a real leather mitt can.
I was surprised how many young ballplayers out there were into the game. You hear occasional stories of baseball dying out a little more each year with the proliferation of other (possibly more user-friendly) sports, not to mention the digital hobbies the youths of today take up. But, at least in Mankato, Minnesota, USA, baseball seems alive and well. It was great to see Archie suddenly want to learn to throw and catch and hit. And he wants more than just to play. He wants to know about the game. As a beginning reader, his new interest in baseball has led him to more than a few fine offerings in baseball literature.
Capstone, in particular, continues to offer some great product featuring America’s Pastime. From Michael Dahl’s GOODNIGHT BASEBALL to AMAZING BASEBALL RECORDS written by Thom Storden to ALL ABOUT BASEBALL by Matt Doeden, you won’t find a misplayed grounder. I had the great fortune to be editorially involved in the SIX DEGREES OF SPORTS set just this last year, and I’d put our SIX DEGREES OF DAVID ORTIZ: CONNECTING BASEBALL STARS title, written by Tyler Omoth, up against any other non-fiction baseball title out there. It’s original, it’s educational, and it’s highly entertaining. What more could you ask for? Even if it’s only through literature, you’d do well to take yourself, or a young shortstop you may know, out to the ballgame.
by Nate LeBoutillier, editorial