Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Pre-Wee League

From a distance, squinting, we couldn't tell what we were looking at. March of the biped tortoises? I guessed. Diving bells on parade? Dave ventured. Enormous shells were moving around a field with little legs under them. We moved closer. And Lord love a duck in springtime, it was baseball. It was the Wilshire-Riverside League, the best in post-fetal baseball, and, like every other form of baseball, it was terrific. Call it the Pre-Wee League.

We're skeptical about efforts to rope tiny kids into team sports. It was probably the niece's soccer mudathons that did it. We'd hunker down under tarps on the sidelines and cheer whenever it seemed appropriate, while on the field the kids accreted into scrums with everyone making with little dinky kicks like a single multi-legged organism until the ball squirted out, and after a while one of the kids noticed and ran after it (cheer) and the whole organism reassembled in the new location. There was fresh air and a dab of movement involved, so that's good, but the attempt to introduce structure into their brains was like trying to braid a pitchfork. We both thought they'd have been better off with Duck Duck Goose for another year or so.

But the Wilshire-Riverside League won us over. Kids were happy. Parents were happy. Everyone had a good time and nobody was yelling. And it all had to do with the rules. There weren't any.

Oh, there sort of were, but they were more like suggestions. It was hard to go wrong.

Each child had five pitches to saw at, or eight or nine if the situation called for it, and then the batting tee came out, and the child could whack at it until the ball rolled off. Each team's own adult coach was the pitcher, tasked with trying to make contact with the erratically swinging bat. So everybody hits, or in some other way encourages the ball in a forward direction, and everyone runs the bases. There are three innings. Each inning is over when everyone's had a turn at bat. No runs are scored. Nobody wins or loses.

"Does that bother them?" I asked. Not yet, I'm told.

In theory, a runner can be declared out, if by some coincidence a ball is chased down at a base before the runner manages to get it out of first gear. In that case, it is suggested to the runner that he might want to go back to the bench, but if he gets too involved with the second baseman's bug collection, he can stay put and the other runners work around him.

On this Saturday afternoon, the Georgia-Pacific Girl Power team was facing the Barbers, an all-boy team. G-P wore pink, and the Barbers wore blue. This was helpful for gender identification, because the helmets prevented us from seeing the color of the little bows placed over their soft spots. So let's see how the action plays out:

The Barbers, all five of them, trot out to their designated positions, where the second baseman picks through the grass for bugs, the third baseman consults a passing cloud, the pitcher (who does not pitch) crouches in total safety and total eclipse behind the coach, the shortstop experiments with alternative hat and mitt placement, and the highly alert first baseman hops up and down. Number One in the pink line-up steps up to the vicinity of the plate. Pitching commences. Swing, and a miss. Swing, and a miss.

Miss, and a swing.

The batter is all limbered up for the tee now, and within three whacks has dislodged the ball in the direction of third base, which is so astonishing that everyone pauses to admire it, except the highly alert first baseman, who cannot contain himself from charging all the way to third for the ball before spinning around in confusion as he attempts to field it to himself on first.

Second batter for Pink is tiny. Her chin comes into view under her helmet as she tips her head back to locate home plate, where she squares up like a sentient mushroom. The helmet is enormous. A cloud of bats could fly out of there with no one the wiser. At the first pitch, Tiny trickles the ball into the infield and heads off toward first base at a dead totter, finally going the distance as more and more of the base path comes into view. With both hands on helmet she continues around the bases behind the first runner and both of them fetch up at the same time on home plate in time to watch the ball's triumphant arrival at first base (cheer).


A half hour later Pink takes the field with a minimum of one player per position including outfield where, defensively speaking, their presence is strictly ornamental. They even have enough players to field a catcher, who is armored up with enough safety equipment to tip her over well behind home plate, from which position she assembles a ball collection. An adult wings them back to the pitcher.

It was a terrific game. Everyone had a good time. The team cheers were a triumph of coordination. Both Pink and Blue nailed them.

55 comments:

  1. Delightful!! Thanks for starting my morning with this.

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    1. Thank the Wilshire-Riverside League. They were very cheerifying indeed.

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  2. Youngest daughter played peewee soccer, your description of the game is perfect! Best free and genuinely hilarious entertainment on the Planet.

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  3. I went to one of these things with my granddaughter not long ago. Can't say that I was too impressed. Neither was she as she promptly told her mother that she didn't want to do it anymore,ever. I saw her point. Way too many things forced on kids way too early these days from my point of view. But it was cute, and cute goes a long way in our society.

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    1. I know what you mean--but all these kids AND their grownups were having a good time. Maybe in another year, they won't.

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  4. In our thirties, a group of unused to gather on Memorial Day and play Loosers' Softball. We were mostly nerds who couldn't run, hit, pitch, catch or throw. We usually managed to have two guys who could, in fact, get the ball across the plate. You got as many swings as it took to hit the ball. If someone actually caught the ball, you were out. Or, if you knocked over someone's beer as you ran the bases, you were out. Other than that, you had a decent chance to make it home and everyone on both teams cheered. If anyone tried to keep score, we would send them back to the house for more beer and refuse to tell them what happened while they were gone. Outfielders wrote haiku or flew kites, or flirted with bypassers, or watched birds. There was always a vulture or two hanging out over our games. When it started to rain, we would pack up and head back to the house to play Botticelli, having gotten team athletics out of our system for another year.

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    1. Oh I played lots and lots of Beer Ball. The losers (we did score) had to buy the keg. I am so athletic that drinking doesn't affect my ability at all. I don't suck any worse for it.

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    2. Yep, and when I broke finger I could tell my boss it didn't slow my typing up in the least.

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  5. I just love watching children play baseball or softball, especially when parents aren't there screwing up the fun.

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    1. I'm beginning to think there is no form of baseball I don't like. Because this would have been it, and it weren't.

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  6. I so wish I could steel your ability to turn a phrase. Isn't it great when adults let kids be kids? Wonderful commentary!

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  7. Oh, that video is hilarious and takes me back! The little guy fielding the ball is wonderful.

    Our kid's teams followed the three strike rule. At the beginning of the season they hit from the tee and since no one could field the balls, the scores were very high. When they changed to pitch, no one could hit the ball so the scores were very low. But still lots of fun except for one obnoxious mother who shouted at her kid things like, "you do that one more time and you won't get any supper tonight?" I still want to slap her silly.

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    1. That particular little guy fielded ALL of the balls.

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  8. I totally don't believe in organized sports for children under at least middle school.

    But this brought back fond memories of my ball playing days. One memory was of when I was in elementary school. I'd start practicing my trumpet which alerted my neighbors, about 1.5 miles away that I was available. They would come get me to play ball with them. They had three sets of twins and some more singles in their family so they pretty much had a team without me. We just rotated through our turn to be the batter and played various field positions on our way back to becoming the batter again.

    And I used eschew the bus and walk two miles to school so I could get there early enough to play ball with the guys. I had to play with girls during school hours.

    Thanks for the memories.

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    1. You brought back a memory of mine. I was quite young when my dad asked me if there was an instrument I'd like to learn in addition to piano. I immediately said "trumpet!!" and he immediately said "how about cello?" At the time I was so young that I had it in my head a cello was a drum set, so I said no. Wish I'd learned cello. If your trumpet could be interpreted 1.5 miles away, I do believe I understand where my father was coming from.

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  9. You have the story-telling abilities and vocabulary of a young Mark Twain. :-) Thoroughly enjoyed this.

    Pearl

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    1. Aw, you're sucking up, now. I also have his moustache.

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  10. I'm glad it wasn't competitive and they were just there to have fun, but I beg to differ with you. I could hear the one dad yelling in the video. ;)

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    1. He WAS yelling, but it was good yelling, and he encouraged everyone on both teams. I guess it doesn't seem that way...you'll have to trust me. I was impressed!

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  11. I loved this! Your description was dead accurate. I loved watching baseball when mine was small!

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    1. If Dave and I had had children, there's no telling what sort of athletes they'd have been. They'd either have had it, or they'd have been excellent bug collectors.

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  12. My brother played baseball & I totally remember games like this :) So much fun. Thanks for including the video - made me snort for sure!

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    1. I didn't get a chance to play until I was 23. That's another story.

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  13. Rules? I couldn't see any. (But then I'm a Bear; what would I know?) But it struck me that a lot of size-small and size-large people were laughing and clapping, so there must have been something good.

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    1. There were just enough rules to maintain a counter-clockwise motion around the bases. Prevented a lot of face plants, but not, as you can see, all of them.

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  14. It is great when kids get to just have fun. Some parents can get pretty aggressive at some of these.
    I am not into the "our team must win" mode. But some parents can be very competitive.

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  15. It's very refreshing to see this, just coming off hockey season :)

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    1. We didn't have hockey in Virginia when I was wee, but I saw a lot of street hockey in New England. And I still think giving little kids big sticks to play with is a dicey idea.

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  16. We have 2 autistic grandsons who play "ball" with these rules. They are so proud of their "uniforms" and going to the "play offs." It is a big deal for some of them to even follow simple rules, like running to first first, but we cheer even if he decides to go around the bases in the other direction. As you so beautifully pointed out, it is all for fun, so what matters is that they are happy.

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  17. Loved to play ball when I was a kid, but couuldn't catch to save my life, which put a bit of a damper on my enjoyment of the game. Could hit but couldn't catch. I enjoyed this from a nostalgic point of view.

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    1. I've got you beat on all counts. I can't hit, catch, throw, or run, but I'm told I'm a smart base-runner once I get on (always on a fielder's choice), for a slow person. My last softball team disbanded in the eighties, and I still suspect they re-banded as soon as they'd gotten me persuaded it was over.

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  18. Well, Laugh out Loud and Rolling on the Floor Laughing My Ass Off! "Bow over the soft spot"...Brahahahahaha! You nailed it (again).

    Donna

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    1. I actually believe those helmets were more dangerous than not having them would have been.

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  19. Hey Murr! This is charming, and a lot of fun. Now, I wish I could talk more, but I've found these terrific BUGS... Indigo x

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    1. Do they have Tiny Cricket where you are?

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  20. "'Does that bother them?' I asked. Not yet, I'm told." So darling at this age, pink and blue and coed, before anyone of them gets hit by the reality bunt (or is it a grand slam?). But they adjust. They learn to not pick grass from its roots in the outfield. And keep their heads up. (And their hats actually stay on when they do!) They do, all right. And then they get fierce!

    Really enjoyed this, Murr. A three cheers post. :)

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    1. I guess the next step for them is actual Little League. These guys were 6, 7, and 8. I'll bet you anything next year they won't be as much fun to watch.

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  21. I felt the need to add another comment. The whole second paragraph makes me happy. "like braiding a pitchfork" - such imagery! :)

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    1. I wrote that second paragraph just for you.

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  22. Your story painted a wonderful picture of an afternoon on the sidelines of a very fun game. Our kids played in leagues somewhat like this, and it was fun to see the kids picking dandelions, watching bugs, and scratching anyplace that had an itch. The concept of going to certain bases in a specific order was beyond them and for the most part, no one cared. We did have a few parents who stressed out about it all, and it was painful to see that. Too bad this attitude toward kids' activities doesn't last. LOVED the video.

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    1. As I recall, you are very tall, and maybe your kids are too. That has to make them easier to spot. I counted on my ability to disappear or hide behind people. Especially in (shudder) dodge ball.

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  23. I agree with Jayne. I loved this intro to baseball when my kiddo was a bitty body, but it didn't last long. There's something about winning, striving, getting better. Don't know what it is. I'm just happy that for a brief time, the pressure to be perfect is subverted for an inspection of what's in the grass.

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    1. I think of myself as not very competitive, but then again sometimes it comes over me in certain types of games (like Boggle) and I don't like the way it feels AT ALL, although I can't stop it. So probably the only reason I'm not competitive in team sports is that I am so bad at them.

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  24. What a great story. I am with you. Kids have a lot of fun with a little supervision and not many rules. I "coached" my oldest at age five in soccer (football to the rest of the world) about which i knew and still know nothing. I only had two rules, out of bounds and no firearms. The kids used to spend as much time visiting in mid-pitch as they did playing.

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    1. It's hard to argue with rules like those, unless you have firearms.

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  25. What? You would make me like a team sport?

    Phraseology like braiding a pitchfork and having ornamental players (sentient mushrooms, one and all!) has done just that. I'm charmed enough, in fact, that I'd go so far as to say I'd read your color commentary on a *football* game.

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    1. You've got me pegged. I can fake a commentary on anything.

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  26. This was such a hilarious spot on description. I have been to those games and can remember watching my daughter sitting crossed legged in the outfield, picking daisies.

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    1. Fortunately, she's totally safe out there.

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