Sports

No tomatoes in baseball

At 4 p.m. it’s sunny, hot and humid. 98 degrees. Then the skies darken.

A wind comes up — my wife calls from work: “Take cover! Turn on Channel 7. Get away from the windows!” — and as we speak the wind grows fierce, becoming a blasting blowing blustering tree- and limb-breaking rare summer storm. Limbs down. Power out. But by 6:30 p.m., t-ball time, the worst seems past, and it’s a lot cooler.

At the Gaunt Park diamonds, it’s rainy, a bit chilly, and there’s not a soul in sight. Then Coach Jason Newsome, my Perry League sidekick, and his stalwart handsome athletic son AJ, 9, show up. Jason and I wonder, Do we? Shall we? AJ stays in the car, dry.

Then Karen Hartman pulls up, rolling her window down as she slides into the parking spot right next us: “She wants to play ball!” she sings out joyously, talking about her lovely young daughter, Ayla Current, 5.

“You wanna hit some balls?” I ask Ayla when she gets out. “Yes,” she says in a soft, sibilant, nearly inaudible tone, but nodding her head eagerly, her blue-green eyes shining.

She and I take the tee out to home plate with a bat and a bunch of balls. Ayla’s grandmother, Karen Stilwell-Current, tells me Ayla is asking all week long, from Sunday to Thursday, “When is it going to be Friday so I can go to t-ball? She loves t-ball!”

Ayla hits four balls. Then four more. And four more after that. She is very good. AJ has seen us hitting balls and joins us, taking a turn at bat — he’s a strong boy, nicely put together, well coordinated. He hits four balls. Then Ayla hits four balls. Then AJ, then Ayla, and AJ and Ayla again. And again. And again. It’s what we do at t-ball.

Erin Hankie suddenly appears with her lovely brood: Reagan, 3, Peyton, 10, and William, 11. William comes right to home plate and joins us. He hits four balls. You can see his natural talent shining through, the boy easily competent with the bat and ball. “That come from your mom?” I ask – she, Erin, who played basketball, volleyball, softball, swam, and cheerleaded (cheer-led?) in her day.

Luka Sage-Frabotta rushes up, wanting to hit, too. “We were just out for a walk,” Tony Frabotta, his dad, says when he and his wife Heather Sage show up with their two remarkable boys, Luka, 7, and Orion, 2.

So now it’s Ayla, AJ, William, and Luka all taking turns, each hitting four, five, six balls in a row. When there’s but a handful of children we can do this, which is very nice, because the kids probably love hitting the ball off the tee more than anything else.

We give two-year-old Orion a chance, but he only hits the ball after he had done that wonderfully charming, interestingly mysterious thing so many two-year-olds do: he comes to bat and then just stands there, staring, seemingly oblivious to the ball on the tee right smack dab in front of him.

“Wanna hit the ball?” Tony asks.

“Wanna hit the ball?” I ask.

“Wanna hit?” Tony says.

“You can hit it,” I say.

But he does not; he simply stands there, looking at us standing there staring at him. His face is placid. He is not in pain. He doesn’t look worried or concerned. But his looking about is intelligent; there is something pleasingly thoughtful about it. And he is really taking in the scene, really soaking everything up, watching Jason, Erin, and his dad, Tony, in particular.

Heather steps onto the diamond in front of him, in front of home plate. She walks out about six feet, turns around and, bending at the waist, she asks, “You wanna hit the ball to me?” And the dream boy is suddenly, magically, animated. Oh! A mother’s love! One of the greatest miracles of the universe — and he hits the ball.

“I didn’t have time to get my hat,” Caroline Tucker, 4, says when she comes up to the plate. “We had to go down in the basement,” she says seriously, thoughtfully. “Our cat didn’t like it. Wouldn’t stay,” she says, not looking at the tee, not even looking like she is planning to hit. “She wouldn’t stay,” she says about their cat — they’d brought their neighbor’s dog with them, her dad Scott Tucker tells me later. Their cat did not want to be around that big dumb dog. “We lost our power,” Caroline goes on. “I might have to use a flashlight for a night light,” she says. “Hit the ball,” Scott says. “No, no,” I say, “we gotta hear this story. This story is important.”

“I’m concerned about our neighbor,” Caroline says. And remember, this is a four-year-old girl. Did we talk like that as four-year-olds? I doubt it.

“Concerned?” I say.

“Yes,” Caroline says, “because of the tomato.”

And, you may recall, there had been a tomato warning at Wright Patt. Caroline, bless her precocious little heart, didn’t want anyone caught in a tomato.

And that’s our Perry League, the village’s t-ball, beginners’ baseball program for girls and boys aged 2–9. We welcome all our community’s children regardless of race, color, creed, national origin, sexual preference, ability or disability. You can begin play at any time and there is no requirement to come every week. We’ll be out there, at Gaunt Park, for the next five Friday nights from 6:30–8 p.m. If it is not pouring down rain right at 6:30 p.m., we’ll be taking the field. So if you have a kid who wants to hit the ball, run the bases, do some fielding, then come on out. We’d love to have you, we really and truly would.

 

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