Our life, it can be said, was baseball, or at least some form of it, during the springs and summers of our youths. From Wiffle ball sets, to using a tennis racket and ball to wading up tin-foil and paper cups and using our hands as bats, we found a way to play the game nearly everyday from our early years on into adolescence. Even in college we held pick up wiffle ball games in apartment complex courtyards, but that’s another story for another day.
From the first time we put on that brand new glove that Dad brought home to us, and we wrapped it up with a ball or two and slept on it, we were hooked. Little League baseball season was the best season of the year.
Each spring we eagerly awaited to hear which team we would be on, who our coaches would be, who the other players on the team would be and which of our friends we would compete against. Then, as that first official practice drew near, the seriousness of throwing and catching the ball in the yard thickened.
By first practice, you see, if you weren’t already in baseball shape, in a baseball frame of mind and ready to hit and pitch and run and throw and catch, then you had to catch up with everyone else. The first practice, wasn’t really most of the players’ first of the year. It was simply an assemblage of several separate practices that had been taking place throughout the community for days and possibly weeks, and a chance for the coaches and parents to see what the stallions were going to be like as a group for the season.
Thirty years ago this year, the first official baseball practice of my life occurred around this time. What followed is a love of the game that has stuck with me into fatherhood. The sound of the metal bat striking the cowhide ball, the unique pop of the ball nestling in the sweet spot of a well-worn glove and the wise direction given by enthusiastic adults, who make their living in other ways, in short, direct orders, such as “Rock and fire”, “Swing away” and “Go home!”–all together take my breath away each time I get around a little league park.
We chose teams for Tiny-T tee ball in Wesson last week, as has happened in Hazlehurst and Crystal Springs and other communities in the past few weeks. Grayson, our youngest at 3 and in his first year to be eligible to play on a team, has been practicing with his sister Elise and older brothers Connor and Blake to get ready. His new glove–still in the breaking-in stage–and new bat have been worked out fairly well. He absorbs some of the coaching that he has gotten from all of us a little at a time, but still he’s strong headed enough to think that he doesn’t need to listen–just like the rest of us did, I imagine. He’s supposed to be hitting off the tee, but prefers a soft toss so he can be like the Big Boys. He pops it pretty good from time to time.
The first practice of his life is Saturday. With him being three, it’s a little bit different that it was 30 years ago when I was seven, but the excitement to me and KK is just as much as it was to my mom and dad back then. The waiting this week is the hardest part.
I can already tell that he loves the game and will probably take naps in his uniform on Game Day, much as I did the first couple of years. Of course, swimming will not be allowed on Game Day, so that we can be ready to play.
We know that hundreds of other parents in our communities are looking forward to another great year at the ball park. We wish everyone the best of luck and are hopeful that experience is one that will be enjoyed and stay with your young ones for the rest of their lives.
Joe Buck Coates