Sports

The poetry of Perry League

It was steaming, the temperature in the mid-nineties, the humidity near 100 percent last Friday night, July 22. Six brave children showed up: Tommy Moore, 3, a stalwart, not missing a night this whole season. Tiger Van Ausdal, four-and-a-half, a good, strong, engaged, aware-and-sensitive-to-others kid who calls out every time before she throws the ball back to you, “Heads up, Coach!” And her wonderful, playful, enthusiastic and adorable cousins, five-year-old Ellie and three-year-old Noah Hagberg, visiting from Richmond, Va., came out, too. A newcomer, an exuberant, energetic BoomBoxBoy, Dane Beal, 5. And that Perry League star in her fifth season, the beautiful Devon Deal, 7. And as we did our warm up exercises — you need to “warm up” in the middle of a heat wave? — another of my newest best friends, Elijah Yelton, 3, he of the sparkling sky blue eyes, showed up.

We tried to do what we always do, heat wave or not. We touched our toes. We sat in the grass. We touched our noses to our toes (they did; I just waved at mine from afar). We knelt, each of us trying to crawl around two other human beings who were also trying to crawl around us as we tried to crawl around them. We stood, time for jumping jacks, but four of the five children in front of me were paying me no mind: Tommy Moore was sitting quietly in the grass to my right, saving his energy, while Elijah Yelton was behind me, being the watcher that he is. But Noah, Ellie, Tiger and Dane were off in another universe, enjoying an impromptu confab.

Suddenly Noah turned to me and said, “Wanna see how fast I am?” And before I could get a word out, he whirled about and was racing lickety-split straight out into deep right field. I started to protest, “No! No! Don’t—” but the boy was gone! And then in the next few moments I was witness to yet another of these wonderfully surprising “What will they do next?” t-ball moments — I watched my small group of five children dissolve. First, of course, it was the screaming demon Noah taking off. Then it was Ellie, his big sister, who turned tail and flew the coop, zooming out into deep right field in a mad dash to catch her little brother. Tiger was next, singing out, “Wanna see how fast I am?” and then she was gone, too. Boom! Like a shot off a shovel with Dane BoomBoxBoy Beal, knees a-lifting, elbows a churning, hot on her heels.

I was dumbfounded. How did this happen? This wasn’t the plan. Devon Deal was the only kid still standing with me. She’s older, I thought, feeling grateful. Older and wiser, I thought. She knows what we do. She’ll stick with me, she won’t be running off into the wild blue yonder like the rest of this fickle-wickle-pickle toddler gang. No, not Devon, she’s too sensible.

But she’d been watching the four flying flinigans as they raced into the nether reaches of the ball park, and then, it happened again! It was as if Devon had been having a conversation with herself — she’d been looking at me, looking at the four children racing away, wondering, I thought, “What in the world?” — when suddenly that conversation was over. Some decision had been made and now it was Devon taking off like a rocket from Cape Canaveral, that girl a genuine speedster, zooming away from me at nearly the speed of light.

I knew when I was licked, so I gave in and became the head cheerleader again, telling Noah how fast he truly was, that it was astounding; that Ellie, yes, you’re an amazing sprinter! And you, Dane, you’re as fast as a white-tailed deer leaping away, quickly disappearing into the woods. And Tiger, you, too, as quick and as powerful as a bolt of lightning! And not even Superman could catch you, Devon, you’re so fast, so unbelievably, incalculably, impossibly fast fast fast!

When we got back to the diamond, with more kids showing as the evening progressed, we took turns batting, fielding and running the bases. And I got to see Devon at the plate for the first time this season. And let me tell you, it was a remarkable thing. She was a case study in how to take this batting business seriously. In how to really enjoy this thing, this hitting the ball off the tee.

She stepped into the batter’s box, positioning herself next to and a bit back of the tee. She had her feet spread about 18 inches apart. She hoisted her bat, holding it up and back behind her ear, cocking it, using her shoulder muscles as much as anything else. With her knees slightly bent and a slight arch in the small of her back, she bounced a bit, keeping her feet firmly on the ground, getting the feel of it just right. And then with her eye constantly on the ball, she did a couple half swings, aiming, lining it up.

When she was ready, and there was no rushing this girl, she knew what she wanted, she knew what she was doing, she swung that bat, her stroke strong, steady and true, knocking that ball through the feet of our infielders, another beautiful Devon Deal base hit!

And then there was Noah. He’s 3, no bigger than the tee, but he hit the ball well, connecting solidly, wood to ball, on the first swing each time he came to the plate.

“Drop the bat!” I said, “Drop the bat and run!”

And so did his mother Bethany down on first base: “Drop the bat, Noah! Drop the bat and run to me! Noah! Noah!”

But he would not.

“No,” he said as articulate as a parliamentarian.

“No, I am going to take it back over here,” he said.

“Back over here” was the on-deck circle where Jason Newsome was working, getting kids ready to hit, getting their names, bringing them to me at home plate. “I’m going to take it over here,” Noah said quite carefully, quite pointedly. And that’s what he did. Instead of dropping the bat and running to first, he turned around, away from the tee, away from first base, and took his bat back to Jason. Where it ought to be, right?

Right.

And that’s our Perry League, which is coming too quickly to the end of its 2011 season. This Friday, July 29, will be our penultimate evening of play and next Friday, August 5, will be our final night of play, the night of our potluck picnic (the sign up sheet will be on the backstop of the smaller diamond). That’s the night we give each child who shows up, even if it is their first night on the diamond with us, a lovely little Perry League trophy. So come play ball with us these last two Friday nights, if you can, if you will. And if you do, you might end up in a new film by local award-winning filmmaker Steven Bognar. He stopped by Friday night to see if he might shoot some film of the Perry League in action. He’s working on a project about the village.

“More a poem than a film,” he said, envisioning short clips that move through, about, around, over and into this wondrous place we call home, our beloved Yellow Springs, taking us, as he was currently imagining it, he said, through a summer, fall, winter and spring. A Bognar film poem. Sounds good, eh? And that’s at the Perry League in Gaunt Park, Friday night from 6:30–8 p.m. Come on out and see us. We’d love to have you.

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