Little League Season: Batter Up

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Welcome to Little League. Coach pitch, Kansas City Royals, ages 6-8.

We bought a glove, baseball pants and a bat a few days before the first practice. I threw the ball for Miles, he watched it fall to the grass and then told me about Greek mythology. I picked up the ball, threw it again, he told me more about Greek mythology. I handed him the bat and threw him a pitch, he pirouetted and fell in a heap and, yes, told me more about Greek mythology.

I gave up, thinking maybe the coaches would have better luck. My dad couldn’t teach me to ride…my wife can’t teach me to cook.

Coach Alex and Coach Robert met us at the park on a Monday evening. Three drill stations, hitting off a tee, hitting in the batting cage and soft toss. They handed me the tee and a bucket of balls.

“Mind running a drill?”

“Mind if I don’t know anything about hitting a baseball?”

They did not mind.

So we had the first practice, only one kid hit my hand as I tried to place a ball on the tee, I judged it as a success. Miles left enthusiastic, which was the first victory. We had a second practice – I was replaced as assistant – and Miles left enthusiastic. I started to feel good about the upcoming season. The Royals were starting to mesh, a couple of the kids could even hit, throw and catch.

Then I brought up the first game, “Miles, we have a game on Saturday. Isn’t that great?”

Hesitation.

“You mean against another team?” Miles asked. “We’re playing against another team.”

I played it down.

“It’s more like a practice with another team.”

Placation. Momentarily.

Then, more hesitation and eventually stubbornness.

“Dad, I’m not playing in a game.”

Finally, I looked at him and demanded answers, “Miles, what’s wrong with playing in a game? You’re having fun practicing. Just tell me what’s bothering you.”

Miles, 6, looked at the ground, then looked me in the eye, “Dad, we’ve only had two practices, I just don’t feel prepared for a game.”

And for once in this maddening life as a parent, I said exactly what a dad should say.

“Miles, you’re not prepared, but that’s OK. Nobody is prepared. The other team only had one practice. And it’s supposed to be fun, that’s all.”

That was it. Not another moment of hesitation. Miles pulled on his #10 Royals jersey, his new Royals hat, ran around the bases when his team was called at Opening Ceremony and took the Little League pledge.

Three hours later, without a belt, cleats, blue socks, a cup – indeed, not prepared enough, Miles played in his first Little League game.

We had gone over the rules…three outs, three strikes, six innings, run when you hit the ball, drop the bat, the catcher is the director, listen to your coaches, there is no walking – or crying – in baseball and always listen to your coaches.

The Royals jumped to a big lead in the top of the first inning, scoring five runs with alacrity, then went to the field.

Miles played right field in the first inning. He bent his knees and readied his glove every time Coach Robert yelled, “Baseball ready.” The ball didn’t come near him, what a relief. Three up, three down, back to the dugout. The whole team sprinted to the dugout, well, the whole team except for the rightfielder. Obviously thinking about Poseidon, Hercules and Hera, Miles stood in right field. We yelled, we waved, we jumped up and down, “Miles…Miles…Miles…” Finally, he heard the commotion and saw our urgency. He waved. One glorious, enthusiastic left-handed, windshield-wiper wave from the only player in the field. Eventually, he joined his team in the dugout.

Batting 11th in the field of 11, Miles was due up third in the batting order. Coach Alex and Coach Robert prepped their players to support Miles when he stepped up to the plate. They yelled, screamed, rattled the chainlink dugout fence. It was a cacophony of enthusiasm. After watching 10 right-handed kids hit, Miles walked up to the plate and started to dig in – squash the bug – his batting stance was flawless, albeit pointing the wrong direction, away from the field. Righted, he dug in on the proper side, pointing his index fingers to the sky to make sure they were pointing the right direction, raising his left elbow, placing his hands by his ears, digging his back foot into the dirt, the bug didn’t have a chance. His teammates bellowed and cackled like the clown had just entered the birthday party. Miles dug in, squinted at Coach Alex on the mound, flapped his elbow like Joe Morgan, then stopped. He lowered his bat and looked over at his teammates in the dugout. He raised his right hand and lowered it, like a crossing guard telling motorists to slow down.

“Guys, guys, you’re too loud. Hold it down. I can’t concentrate,” Miles implored from a toothless grin.

His teammates looked at each other, partly dismayed, partly confused. They quieted.

Miles raised his bat again, dug in, flapped his elbow and stared down Coach Alex.

He fouled off the first pitch, missed one in the dirt and hit the third one down the first-base line.

I leapt off my feet like it was Bobby Thompson’s shot heard ’round the world.

And, in a way it was.

Miles stood at the plate watching the ball bounce in the grass. We urged him to run. Well, more like yelled, implored, screamed at him to run. Eventually, he did. Bat in hand, he sprinted up the first base line. He was out, but he’ll never know it.