Saturday was Little League Opening Day. If I'd known what ceremony, pomp, circumstance, tradition and sentiment went with it, I'd have worn an evening gown. Then again, I should have guessed as much from movies -- no chick flicks are sappier than baseball movies.
Julian and I were at the park from 8:30 to 12:30, joined briefly by the rest of the family to witness the end of Julian's game. First were photos: individual slugger photos, then a team photo. Julian's team was the only one for whom the majority were wearing jeans. I learned that 3 of the 10 players are from Israeli families -- recent enough immigrants that one of his teammates tried to talk to me in Hebrew.
Then came their first T-ball game. It's sort of silly at first glance: no score is kept, everyone bats, everyone runs around the bases, everyone scores, field positions are rotated and everyone gets a turn. Is this really a game, or just a way to keep a 6-year-old busy on a Saturday afternoon?
Nevertheless, Julian and his teammates were all over it. Julian started off in the pitcher "position," who ends up doing all the fielding because it seems beginning T-ballers pretty much all hit the same direction and distance. Julian and subsequent pitcher-fielders got the idea quickly that they had to get the ball and throw it to first base. No decisions, no plays, no outs. Silly, right?
Mostly in the fielding stance taught by our really excellent (I think) coach.
Julian (#7) throwing to the absent first base-kid while the opposing Giants batter runs to first base.
This is pretty much how every play goes. Julian is #7.
A few minutes of batting coaching before the game made a tremendous difference. This is the first time Julian, and every teammate and opponent, has ever been up to bat with all other teammates and opponents and parents watching.
T-ballers all round all the bases. Most have to be directed to actually touch the base.
The "outfielders" don't have much to do though, and when Julian wasn't in the pitcher position, he spent half his time lying down, or throwing his hat and glove on the ground.
More Bad News Bears than Field of Dreams, but the comicalness only added to the fun.
I missed the photo, but I was glad to see that the teams line up and shake hands after the game. To me, teaching them sportsmanship is very very important.
After the game, the kids lined up for the opening ceremonies. (Many games were scheduled throughout the day; Julian's just happened to be before.) Starting with the oldest teams, each team ran around the infield while being introduced, then settled in groups on the perimeter.
The T-ballers ran last, then settled on the inside of the infield -- a special spot.
From there, the usual introductions and thank-yous were said. A dressed-up girl who's listened to way too much Mariah Carey sang the National Anthem. The Little League Pledge was stated by about 10 players -- it starts with, "I trust in God..." The girl came back and sang "Take me out to the Ball Game." Then the First Pitch was made from the youngest player to the oldest one.
It was so sappy I couldn't decide if I should barf or cry. Truth is, it left a lump in my throat against my will.
But I was struck by how seriously the T-ballers were taken, even though their actual game seemed like little more than a party activity. When the T-ballers ran around the infield before settling into their place of honor, they got a high-five from every older player on the perimeter. The Sunnyvale league president said that 8 T-ball teams meant a bright future for their league, and spoke about the importance of cultivating younger players.
So even though the game appeared trite because of how much of real baseball is removed from it, the kids really learned a lot. Most have no idea how baseball goes; even the concept of an "inning" is lost on them. Now they understand switching teams, fielding, throwing to get a batter "out," running bases. I know from friends' teams that this is very necessary initiation -- in two years, they will all be seasoned players who know how the game goes, and will be ready to play seriously. It's really a very very nice introduction -- no pressure, but still learning the basic structure of the game and teamwork and sportsmanship. That's not silly at all.
To my surprise, I loved it. I thought I'd hate being a "sports mom," but it turns out, I like being there and as involved as I can be, chatting with the other parents. I ran into two moms I already knew from Las Madres, in fact. I'm so impressed with the commitment and competence of our Dad coaches, and I love watching the kids improve minute-by-minute. I'll take this over sitting in a playground watching a toddler go down a slide anyday. And I think this is far cuter than a 3-year-old princess party. I just love it.
Oh yeah, and I think Julian loved it too! But first and foremost he asked in a wondrous voice: "Did you see that beautiful girl?" -- meaning the Mariah-Carey wannabe. He was very taken by her.
That afternoon, another first event: Dave's been putting the idea of a "two-wheeler" in Katrina's head, and for some reason, today, she claimed she was willing to try. We both expected she'd refuse as soon as she got on it, but she was willing to try.
After about 15 minutes, she did give up and then spent a lot of time in what's left of our backyard riding the scooter. But she got the idea! She has Gabriel's stubbornness and some of his persistence, but without his toughness. Still, she's always liked bicycles and seems to be very very interested in learning to ride a two-wheeler -- as long as the conditions are exactly to her liking that is.
Isn't it interesting that since I've a full-time job, I've turned into a baseball mom, a hockey mom, and taken the family skiing. Seems I really do work better under pressure.