Sports

Meet our promising future at t-ball

A couple of years back, Steffi Cooper, 8, was distressed about our races to the outfield and back at the beginning and ending of the evening. “Someone always loses,” she said. And so, always looking for ways to be more child-friendly, ways to be more welcoming, more inclusive, ways to be more loving, we stopped calling them races — I call them “runs” now — and we added a twist, a new Perry League rule: the one who comes in last, wins.

Two weeks ago, Anneliese Fisher, 7, reminded me of this rule, her eyes shining rapturously.

“I’m going to win,” she announced, as proud as a tiger-lily. When I — “Ready, set, Go!” — blew my whistle, she and her radiant, laughing friend Cierra Richeson, 6, barely moved a millimeter.

“We’re going to be last,” Cierra said as the two of them began inching their way across that great expanse of green known as right field, one meager toe length at a time.

The sun had set, the cattle were in the barn, and the hens were in the hen house long before these two dear darlings even made it to the infield.

Then last Friday, there is a gang of them determined to be last, determined to win. It’s Anneliese again, only this time she’s with the beguiling and marvelous Emma Romohr, she’s 10 now and nearly as tall as her mother Elizabeth (who wouldn’t give her age). These two beauties were accompanied by Emma’s little sister, Krista, 6, Amani Wegner, 8, and Mahlia Baggett. They began their trek shuffling slowly, lugubriously, barely a half an inch forward at a time. You take 10 steps and you’ve left them in the dust.

Four hours later, the sun’s coming up, and here they come, the whole gang of them, only now they’re carrying Krista. There’s a kid gripping, hanging onto each arm and each leg. Krista is stretched like a piece of taffy, face down, her belly almost dragging on the ground. It looks like they’re carrying a hammock full of sand, and Krista, of course, is that hammock.

“That ought to get us in the paper,” Emma, the apparent ringleader, says. Gary, her dad, was within earshot: “Working every angle,” he says with a shake of his head and a grin on his face.

In other late breaking news, William Grey, 7, 6-year-old Peyton’s big brother, bangs into Jayden Shular, who has been 8 since the 15th of June, as they chase a ball shooting through shortstop. They collide and William drops to the rock-hard turf like a bag of cement tossed off a truck. Tears flow. The boy’s sprawled face and belly down in the dust. Jonathan Richeson, the very cool hip hop dad of that “the-girl’s-always-in-motion” Cierra Richeson, comes quickly to William’s rescue, squatting, then kneeling next the boy, patiently comforting him. Jonathan encourages William to get to his feet, telling him two or three times, “You’ll feel better then.” William finally stands up and almost immediately feels better. Jayden cracks a joke, makes him laugh, and we’re back to business as usual.

And there’s the apparent prodigy, Nina Lawrence (who I think is 6). She’s distinctive, looking right at you, her intelligent eyes watching your every move. She’s small, compact, not obviously athletic, but when she hoists her bat I know. She holds it in a way that made it clear she was feeling every muscle in her hands, arms, and shoulders, and that it was a happy, strong feeling. Then she’d swing, her eyes always on the ball, and connects, usually on that first swing, and in a very solid way, sending that ball zooming right through the legs of the children close to and around the pitcher’s mound. But what was truly amazing was when she came to bat late in the evening. Our on-deck coach had left to watch his other child play on the little league diamond about 200 yards south of us.

“You’re up,” I say, but she shakes her head, No.

“I haven’t had any of my warm up swings yet,” she says.

She was dead serious. She could not, would not, come to bat until she’d had her warm up swings.

She stood back, away from the plate, got into a near perfect batting stance, looking like Barry Bonds. She took a couple of swings. Strong, complete, full bodied swings. I felt my own muscles ripple just watching her.

And then she did it again, the next time she came up, again refusing to come to the plate until she’d had her warm up swings. Whack. Whack. Whack.

You see this sort of clarity of purpose, this sort of dedication to one’s work, this sort of self-possession, and you marvel. This is the kind of kid who could grow to — you name it: to invent a new generation of computers that make it possible for us to control all the electricity in the house with a blink of our eyes. To write a book, a novel, a history, a scientific treatise, that changes the world. Amazing. Simply amazing.

And that’s our Perry League. Yellow Springs’s t-ball program for all our community’s children ages 2–9 regardless of race, color or creed. We’ll be out at Gaunt Park for the next three Friday nights — July 25, Aug. 1, and our final, wiener roast, potluck trophy night, Aug. 8 — from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Children can begin to play at any time and there is no requirement to play every week. So why don’t you come on out, have a vision of your own. Or meet the next Elie Wiesel, or the next A-Rod, our future. You won’t regret it, I promise.

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