Monday, June 21, 2010

A Championship Season

Summer officially arrived in the opening minutes of this fine Monday morning.

So I am taking the day off work in remembrance.

Although I must say it has felt like summer here where I live for the last month or so.

The barbecue has been going full blast since the last week of May.

The pool has been opened and in full use since the last week of May.

The baseball has been fast and furious now for several months.

And yesterday was the last day of Turtle Club little league t-ball baseball.

I guess they never heard the expression "boys of summer".

And yesterday – my little girls of summer – along with their other ten team mates – won their league championship.

The "Speedy Pinkies" win the 2010 Turtle Club League Championship for Senior Girls T-Ball
bottom (left to right) Kayla, Avery, Alannah, and Olivia
top (left to right)  Ashley-Rae, Breanna, Jordan, Kaitlin and Emily.

Both my daughters – Alannah and Ashley-Rae – played for the pink team – sponsored by a local Doctor Mary Buchanan – her name taking up two lines on the back of their shirts above the number. The classic Turtle Club logo across the front in black.

And the Brill Girls contributed their share of offense and defense in route to this championship. Of course I am a proud papa – so take my praise of their play with a grain of salt if you wish to.

I wouldn't blame you.

Who knew T-ball could be so exciting?

I guess you had to be there.

But there is a thrill to watching a child stand at the plate – bat in hand – lining it up with the ball – the bat a bit to heavy – the ball a bit to high – and the first couple of attempts resulting in a teeth tingling clank as the metal tee is knocked out from under the ball by the aluminum bat – only on the third try to see the youngster connect with the ball and send a line drive through the gap that results in the runner on second coming home to score the go-ahead run.

And there is a thrill to watching young children just learning how to field a ground ball cleanly and throw it on an arch to first – then to see the young first baseman extend their glove in a self defense motion – head leaned back out of the way with eyes half shut in anticipation of the ensuing pain they are expecting – only to see the surprise and victory on their faces when they realize the ball trapped itself neatly inside their little glove – with secondary care as to whether the little batter beat the throw to first base or not – the play was successfully completed!

It's surprisingly exciting – and even more so rewarding when it's your own child now catching and throwing with proficiency – after spending hours in the back yard tossing pop flies and ground balls to them – helping them learn the right way to hold their glove when a ball is above their shoulders or below – and insisting their throws be aimed at your chest.

The hardest part of the skill of catching a baseball to teach a young child – younger than the age of ten – is to not catch every ball with the glove pointing at the ground – how the glove is really an extension of their hand – and is something you wear – not that you hold onto in hopes that a ball will fall into it – you have to reach out to the ball flying in the air and snag it in your webbing – instead of hoping it will merely hit the mitt's webbing and lodge itself there for you.

Then there are the rules of the game – not all of which are learned in t-ball.

Rules like you have to tag the runner when there is no force at the base you are playing – and what scenarios constitutes a force out. Try explaining to a little catcher that they have to tag the runner at home because while there are runners at second and third – first base sits empty because the last play got the runner at first.

Rules like the batter is automatically out if you catch their batted ball in the air – before it touches the ground – and if the runners on base go to the next base, you can throw to the base they just ran from and force them out because the runner never tagged up.

In yesterday's game such a play did occur – the ball hit on a line at the pitcher – who in self defense held up their glove in protection – only to find it lodged in the gloves webbing – and the stands full of over-anxious parents screaming "throw it to first!" – which she did – and the first baseman indeed caught her throw – doubling up the little runner who did not understand she could not run.

In the dugout my youngest daughter said to the coach "my daddy says that's called a dubba play", to which the motherly coach smiled and said "your daddy's right, Ashley-Rae".

That made my day.

My Father's Day.

The little team of twelve little girls ages seven and eight – sporting pink jerseys and black shorts – sang chants from the dugout like "fans fans in the stands, when you gonna clap your hands?" and other sing song works of poetry worthy of a boot camp marching cadence caller.

Every parent in the stands rooting for every little girl on the field. But rooting just a little louder for their own little girl – and hollering instructions from behind the backstop as each comes to the plate.

"back up a bit"

"watch the ball"

"swing hard"

"straight through"

All while the coach at first or third base is pantomiming a swing – pretending to hold an imaginary bat – showing the movement they want the youngster to mimic at the plate.

Clink – as the tee falls to the ground and the ball falling as well.

Swoosh – as the bat swings over the ball – over compensating for the previously missed attempt – the young batters body uncoiling to the point near falling down.

Crack – as the bat meets the ball

Hooray! - as the fans explode in the celebration of the youngster's success

"Throw it to second!" – as the other team's fans instruct the little fielder where to throw the ball

And the resulting mix of cheers and groans as the play is either successfully completed with the runner out or the play fumbled and the runner found to be safe.

It's really quite magical.

But their favorite part is after the game – when they gather in a corner of the outfield – each team in their own corner – and the coolers containing the after game snacks come out – juice boxes or freezy pops and granola bars passed out – and they sit in the corner and share the experience of the game – and how fun it was – and how good they played – like a bunch of adults playing beer league softball sitting around a pitcher of draft beer in a pub after the Tuesday night league game.

But yesterday's game also included trophies – each little team lined up along the first and third baselines – names announced over the loudspeaker – and the awards distributed proudly to each little girl who ran up to take theirs – holding them up for the world to see – for the world to acknowledge them.

Acknowledge them as champions.

And then they had freezy pops.

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