Sports

Trying to blow softer at t-ball

Mia Campbell was back. And this time with the whole Campbell entourage. Tristan, who will be 13 in August, a big brother so handsome that if I were a 13-year-old girl I’d ask him to marry me. Raven, he’ll be 11 on July 29, who is impressed with the size of his clan: “Five people in one house!” he says. Mia’s mom, Carrie, her dad Aaron. And what is almost a being itself, the big-wheeled chair Mia rolls out onto the diamond in.

I tell Carrie she sure creates some beautiful kids, then ask Tristan in front of Aaron, “How did all you kids get to be so good looking when your dad’s so ugly?”

Tristan laughs and Aaron, smiling, tolerates my abuse. And then Aaron and I commiserate each other on how our good looks have faded with age.

“Did you see your picture in the paper?” I ask Mia.

“Yes, you got my nose,” she says, touching the tip of her nose with her left index finger.

“Yes,” I say, puzzled. You got my nose?

“You got my eye,” she goes on, lifting that index finger to her right eye. Then dropping it to touch her chin, she says, “You got my chin.” I am picturing the photo the News ran on June 23 of the two of us at home plate. You see Mia in profile, a shot taken from her left side. She is now touching her bottom lip: “You got my lip.”

Is she walking through that photo of herself, part by part? We did get her nose, her eye, her chin, her lip. How interesting.

Then, seemingly out of the blue, she says, “I am Mia.”

“Hello,” I say again and she rolls to plate a half dozen times, hitting a dozen balls, one of the last ones is a home run. Carrie helps her around the bases. They are rounding third and heading for home when Carrie says, “You want to push yourself?” I am intrigued. Can she? In the dirt? In that huge chair? But Mia is cool She nods, a strong, definite nod, and then, by golly, she pushes herself, making those big 18-inch-diameter wheels turn, over and through the pebble-strewn dirt, the weedy tufts of grass and near-grass, rolling herself till her left wheel rolls across home plate.

“Gimme five!” I say, and this very pretty, very strong young girl, strong in body, mind and spirit, gives me five.

“Gimme five” is one of our rituals. We ask all the kids to “gimme five” when they come home. In fact, we’re a program of rituals, doing the same things and generally in the same order every Friday night. Like our warm up exercises: we roll our arms (inviting everyone to make as much noise as possible), we touch our toes. “No-ohhhh!” the children roar, “No-ohhhh! Just ten! Only five! One! None!” We sit on the ground, put the bottoms of our feet together, and touch our nose to our toes, our nose to our toes.

Then there are the rituals the children create themselves. Like Hannah Littel, 7, insisting on reading each week’s t-ball article herself, aloud, to her dad Tim. “Slowly, carefully,” Tim says, “Stopping sometimes so I can help her pronounce a word, or explain what one means.” Some of this is pretty grown up, he says, clearly proud of his darling, and impressed and interested, as am I, in Hannah’s insistence on doing this.

My Mr. Mystery, Deep Thinker Boy, Elijah Yelton, 3, has created a ritual, too. Which happens at the end of the evening, right after our final run to right field where I ask each week (thank you, Pat Partee, who invented this):

“Did you have fun tonight?”

“Yesssssss-essssss!” the children scream, leaning into me, really belting it out.

I shake my head: “I couldn’t hear you.” I say, and ask again, “Did you have fun tonight?”

And these beautiful vibrant living breathing racing running laughing crying jumping leaping miracles, these pint-sized human beings, scream their bloody heads off.

“Yessss-ess-ess-ess-essssss!”

All except Tommy Moore, 3, who is holding his ears. This screaming can hurt, too. Sorry, Tommy. And Elijah Yelton as well, who stands back a bit from the clutch of screaming children.

Then we do the same thing with my second question, “Are you going to come back next week?” Asking them twice, getting them to howl and shriek. It is wonderful, astounding, ear-splitting. And then we race back to the diamond and call it a night.

But as I reach the diamond, thinking I am alone, Elijah Yelton suddenly appears. Like an apparition, a vision, seemingly out of thin air. I kneel down, on the first base bag so I can look him in the eye, but he drops to his knees just as I do. Imitating me, I think, doing what the coach does, and it touches me deeply, feeling so respectful, so loving.

“I am going to come back next week,” he says once we’re both down and comfortable. Which is what he has said to me every Friday night, right at the end of the evening, just like this. This is, I realize as I write this two days later, an answer to the second end-of-the-night question about whether or not you’re going to come back next week. A question, I also realize, he never answers when I ask the whole gang out there in right field, being like Tommy Moore, standing back, preferring it a bit less noisy.

“I think your whistle is too loud,” he says.” Oh! I’m sorry,” I say, telling him other kids have thought that, too.

“Would you like it if I blew it a little softer?”

“Yes,” he says.

“Show me,” I say, giving him my whistle. He takes it, gives it a soft, breathy blow, barely making a whistle sound at all.

“Like that, huh?”

“Yes,” he says, “like that.”

“Okay,” I say, wanting not to cause this boy any pain or discomfort. “I’ll try to do it like that next week.”

And I will. And that’s our Perry League, the village’s beginners baseball program for girls and boys 2–9 years of age, where the children are wonderful, the families generous and loving and sometimes the coach blows his whistle too hard. We’ll be out there on the two Gaunt Park ball diamonds for three more Friday nights, from 6:30–8 p.m., with me blowing that whistle a little softer. We welcome all the community’s children regardless of race, color, creed, ability or sensitivity to loud noises. We’re assiduously non-competitive, always striving to be as attentive and responsive as we can, learning as we go. If you want to play, but haven’t been out this season yet, it’s okay. You can begin playing at any time and there is no requirement to play every week. So come on out when you can, when you like. We’d love to have you.

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