Friday, May 22, 2009

Tee is for Teaching

If you’re going to sit around swatting at black flies anyway, you might as well go take in a tee-ball game.

Think about it. If you watch the Red Sox, the same thing happens every inning. Players shuffle to the batter’s box as if on their way to see an oral surgeon. Ground balls get fielded and thrown to first, almost always without error or emotion.

If you know the situation, you can more or less figure out what each player will do.

Tee ball, on the other hand, is completely unpredictable. After hitting the ball, players run to first base… sometimes. Often they skip first base and scamper directly to second.

Players who remember that they’re supposed to be fielding will scramble madly after every batted ball, pig-piling on top of each other. What fun!

(You’ll occasionally see base-runners lunge after ground balls, as well, which is something you would never see in a Red Sox game now that Manny Ramirez is gone.)

Eventually, someone emerges with the ball, and everyone starts yelling for him to throw it to first base, even though the batter made it safely to first about 45 seconds ago. But the fielder is understandably reluctant to give up the ball so soon. He just picked it up, for crying out loud.

At the end of a recent game, my four-year-old daughter got confused and went into the opposing team’s huddle.

And they let her stay.

On the count of 3, they all shouted, “tee ball!”

Tell me where else you’re going to see that.

The coaches deserve a lot of respect and support for volunteering their time, although they do make me shake my head sometimes.

My daughter’s coach begins each at-bat with a five-minute lecture to the batter about hand positioning, foot positioning, bat positioning, head positioning, spleen positioning, etc.

He will go so far as to grab a player’s foot and move it about an inch in one direction or another, as if the 500-foot home run that will result from this adjustment justifies the delay and the invasion of personal space.

Actually, I do understand the reason for all the fuss. It is much easier for kids to succeed at baseball or softball later on if they’ve developed good habits.

But my daughter routinely smacks the ball with authority when we practice at home, where no one overwhelms her with advice and directions. I stand about 15 feet from the tee, and I can’t get out of the way fast enough to avoid the ball rocketing into my gut. The joy she gets from this is why we signed her up for tee ball.

During the game, however, she hits weak little ground balls, like Julio Lugo.

Granted, part of it may be the clunky, basketball-sized batting helmet she has to wear. It’s only there to make the kids look cute, because it is physically impossible to hit a ball from a tee and have it strike your own head.

Again, it must be about starting the right habits while they’re young.

I just hope she stays interested long enough for them to become habits.

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