Originally published in The Indianapolis Star, Health CheckUp pubication
By Joe Soria / Illustration by Joe Soria
The fondest memories I have of my childhood are of those long summer days when I played baseball from post-breakfast to pre-twilight.
When I wasn’t playing at the Little League field, I could be found on my street playing a sort of stickball game. We’d tried to get at least 100 innings per day as long as the rain gods were appeased.
Fast forward about 28 years.
No longer able to run for hours on end, I avoid the summer sun in fear of being irradiated like a foil-wrapped potato in a microwave. And now it’s time for me to be the one without the bat. My 5-year-old started Little League T-ball this spring. I was amazed how organized my local chapter of Little League baseball was. I was equally amazed how immaculate the ball diamond was and that they have red Georgia clay in the between the bases and perfectly manicured grass in the infield and outfield.
This is one well-oiled, dedicated machine. When I was in Little League, our field had weeds outnumbering the blades of grass and the clay was good old Indiana hard-as-a-rock surface. If you were lucky, you’d only lose a layer or two of skin during a baseball season.
Let me explain
T-ball. Imagine gathering nine 5-to 6-year-olds, telling them what to do, expecting them not to listen and giving them metal bats that they assume can hit baseballs, dandelions and other kids.
This was the task I took on as an assistant coach. Having never coached anyone before, I had my reservations. I’m a relatively shy person who’s also cursed by forgetting names in an instant. But once I got there, I realized the other dads were in the same boat.
One thing you must know about men is that when you get a few of them together and they don’t know each other, you’re going to hear a lot of air rustling. Luckily, the main coach went to a league-provided seminar on the basics of coaching children and that helped break the ice for the 13 males ranging from age 5 to probably age 40.
As for the kids, you can tell who has natural talent and who doesn’t. Not that we judge the kids in that way, but it’s fascinating that in less than six years of life, these kids have gone from being virtually helpless to mastering a complex game with many rules, terms and traditions. I’m sure the majority of the kids playing are there because Mom and Dad want them to play.
As for my boy, he wanted to play. He’s got a long way to go, but he has the heart and want to play my game, our game. I now know how my dad felt as he coached and watched my brothers and me play from 1954 to his death in 1977. The pride, joy and excitement of watching my little one play baseball is a thrill I don’t think I’ll ever get over. Sharing that experience as a coach makes me feel closer to my son, and I’m reliving the summer of 1973 — I can taste the Oscar Meyer already. ■