We signed our three children up for T-ball over the summer, thinking it wouldn't be too much of a time drain. The guilt of wanting our kids to do some kind of summer activity was starting to weigh on us. Plus, we had to prove to our friends that we did something with our kids other than put them to bed early. So we settled on T-ball: the perfect game for kindergarteners and first-graders who like to run in circles and play in the dirt.
We proudly outfitted our three with new gloves, hats, water bottles, shoes, knee pads, elbow pads, shin guards, shoulder pads, helmets, cups and those sweat-absorbent UV shirts. We rehearsed "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," and even threw a few balls in the backyard, anxious for our first Saturday morning game.
As it turns out, "game" is a relative term.
For starters, instead of being greeted by our team's coach at the season-opener, we were confronted by a woman prowling the outfield, warning everyone without shoes — most of the parents, in other words — about the dangers of hookworm. I had never heard of hookworm before T-ball. Now the two fit together in my mind, like a catcher with shot knees or a pitcher with a torn rotator cuff.
In our children's T-ball league, there are six teams. (Or five-and-a-half, anyway: One team didn't show up until halfway through the season, because they forgot the schedule.) Four teams use the tee, although 75 percent of kids seem unable to hit the ball even if the coach is holding it and swinging the bat at the same time.
Our season-opener, though, was against the one team in the league that was clearly red-shirting the entire line-up. Or recruiting from other neighborhoods. Or doping. Probably all three.
Unlike the kids on the other teams — who not only seem smaller than the red-shirts, but are more focused on the port-a-potties and airplanes above — the red-shirts are there to do one thing. Destroy.
Most of the T-ball coaches are easygoing, and insist on playing to have fun. By contrast, the red-shirt coach stands shoeless on the first-base line, intermittently yelling at her mom on a cell phone and screaming for each kid to move yer ass around the bases. And they do so, like little Navy SEAL recruits.
My husband and I, meanwhile, join the other parents in the outfield for what we think will be an enjoyable hour or so, expecting our kids to field like Andrew McCutchen. I videotape some of the game, only to give up 28 agonizing minutes later, when we finally get to our third batter.
In retrospect, the fact that the veteran T-ballers packed coolers full of beer, bags of Cool Ranch Doritos and cartons of Marlboro 100s should have been a good indication of how long a T-ball game can go on. And when a beer is offered to me, I carefully deliberate the question, Is it right to drink a beer at a T-ball game?
When I realize that the three-inning-per-hour rule does not apply to our team, I decide Yes, yes it is. And as the red-shirts and their coach show no mercy to our team, we engage in conversations about potholes and neighborhood job loss. A few of the parents exchange numbers in hopes of finding work.
T-ball seems to be an excuse for the kids to congregate, too, rather than exercise. More interesting than rolling around in the infield chasing balls is picking up empty firecracker casings in the outfield — a pastime that alternates with eating twin popsicles and guzzling pop from a 17-gallon orange Gatorade tub. (My snack contribution was a sack of apples, making me an instant front-runner to be voted off the island.)
But as the season progresses, our T-ball team learns about commitment. Watching airplanes becomes catching balls; running in circles becomes rounding bases; and playing in the dirt becomes fielding. The parents learn their own lessons: Busy lives slow down as we teach our kids that their teammates are counting on them. Cold beers are set aside; seats are saved. A neighbor runs into the house and grabs some more sunscreen for the kids; the screeching lady checks for hookworms. A few of us parents find jobs.
And by the time the season ends, at least, the red-shirts will have just a little more competition.