By Kevin Tate/Outdoors Writer
If all goes well, this Saturday afternoon will see the first team practice in my fourth tour of duty as a pee-wee T-ball coach, a side career that has opened my eyes to a brand new category of outdoor adventures.
Part of the joy of working with kids this age is the opportunity to affect and see real progress, both in basic baseball skills and in self confidence, mostly the latter. Kids who are closer to diapers than to losing their first tooth don’t expect to be Alex Rodriguez yet, thankfully, and neither do their parents, even more thankfully. They do expect to get to hit the ball and run around, and their parents expect them to learn something about the game, and I believe that’s something members of the teams I’ve been a part of in the past have accomplished.
What’s been more rewarding to me than watching the development of a sweet swing or a reliable fielding technique, though, is witnessing the burst of self confidence a kid gets the first time he makes solid contact in a game and gets on base, then inevitably, to some folks’ chagrin, comes around to score.
I’ve listened to a lot of flack from people who don’t know what they’re talking about say T-ball, the way it’s played with no outs and no score kept, is the beginning of the end of successful society in America. What I bite my tongue and don’t say would fill a book, but what I’ll offer here is the first-hand observation that recording outs and keeping score with 4-year-old boys is a moot point. No team I’ve coached or coached against could have fielded a ball and tagged or forced a runner out at any base more than three times in a month anyway, and anybody who could get them to do so is Honus Wagner and Tony LaRussa rolled into one, then squared, and should promptly step forward and commence for the benefit of their country and of mankind. If not recording outs among 48-month-old players who barely know the batter’s box from the dugout is the end of our freedom, we were already done for.
No, a significant number of the kids who come out have never held a bat before. Quite a few have never spent much time around kids they don’t know before. None has performed solo in front of a crowd before. Doing all three at the same time has done so much for the futures of so many kids, it’s worth the effort for them alone.
Competition is natural. A good baseball swing is not. It is, however, a great introduction to one part of the outdoors, the part with sunshine, green grass and a warm summer breeze, days of grill smoke and popcorn and hey batter batter, part of the outdoors far too special to miss in the days that’ll quickly pass by.
Kevin Tate is V.P. of Media Productions for Mossy Oak in West Point.