Tonight is our last Little League game of the season. It has been awhile since I coached a LL team. Our sons are all grown up now. But, there are grandsons and granddaughters. One of my sons and I decided to coach his son's team in the division a notch above t-ball. I never could get the sense of playing t-ball. It was like trying to organize a herd of cats. So, how about the next league up? When my sons played there was no machine or coach pitch leagues. So this coach pitch league for six through eight year olds was new to me. At our first practice I could see that baseball at any level was new to most of the kids on our team. They would stand on home plate when they got up to bat and hold the bat cross handed (wrong hand on top). If they somehow hit the ball, they were unsure of what to do next. In the field, they didn't know how to hold their mitts to catch a ground ball and a fly ball put their lives in mortal peril. If a ball - by chance- found their gloves there was no chance they could make a throw to first base (or had a clue why you would want to do that, anyway). Base running was a futile effort even after we established which way to run the bases.
Trying to explain why baseball is played the way it is (the rules) took an even greater effort. I realized again how many rules there are to the game. It is a highly organized game played with very strict boundaries. After 14 games and a number of practices, I think, they know how to tell a fair ball from a foul one. They now know which way to run the bases and they always try to get the batter out at first base when the ball is hit to them -even though the throw is often wildly off the mark. They are learning how the game is played. I never read a baseball rule book but I have played and watched baseball for many years. This is how "learning baseball" begins. I hope this first year for many of the kids planted a seed to play and know more. I hope all the "good jobs!" and "nice hit" and "good idea" will translate into "I love this game!" someday for them as it has for me.
I realized, as well, as we are about ready to end this season that the kids have made progress. No one stands on home plate and nearly every kid gets a hit every game and runs to the right base. They still get picked off when they run on a caught pop fly or when they overrun a base. They do make some plays in the field but the logic of base runners having to run or not having to run and whether you can just touch the base or have to tag the runner eludes them.
There are not scores kept in these games. Each team gets to send up nine batters or until they get three outs. Each batter gets seven chances to hit the ball. The coach pitches from a much shorter distance than the regulation distance from the pitchers mound. The idea is to encourage success. It's hard enough to hit a baseball. I was impressed with how well our kids did. They reminded me of something else. Sportsmanship. It was not unusual for them to encourage players on the other teams. Our little second baseman one night echoed the other teams shouts of "good hit, Max" and then put his hand over his mouth and looked at me, and said, "oh oh, I shouldn't have said that!" "It's ok", I said, "it was a good hit". So, no one knows who wins or loses and they refer to runs as points. They line up when the game is over and high five the other team and then they look for the parents who have the snacks. Tomorrow is the season ending picnic. They are looking forward to that. Like baseball, it's another chance to get together and have a good time.