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Kian Rainey, age 3, had a great time at Gaunt Park Friday night. Most of the time he ran around with several baseballs in his hands. Above, Rainey’s successful turn at bat led to a mad scramble towards home plate by at least three decidedly shortstops. (photo by Suzanne Ehalt)

Kian Rainey, age 3, had a great time at Gaunt Park Friday night. Most of the time he ran around with several baseballs in his hands. Above, Rainey’s successful turn at bat led to a mad scramble towards home plate by at least three decidedly shortstops. (photo by Suzanne Ehalt)

T-ball finale­— Opening our hearts to children

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We handed out 54 trophies Friday night, had two diamonds working: a gang of “older” kids, 7-, 8-, 9-, 10-year-olds showed up with a dozen or so of them playing ball by themselves on the big diamond at the end of the night.

It was a splendid night. I was in an end-of-season, love-fest state of euphoria: spontaneous hugs from 4-year-olds, 5-year-olds kissing me on the hand — “I love you! I love you!” “Thank you, coach, thank you, coach,” from 6-year-olds, 4-year-olds, 5-year-olds, 6-year-olds flinging themselves bodily into me, clutching me, clinging to me with the loving exuberance of a creature in a near perfect state of bliss. And more: offers to help from 20 different kids as we put the equipment away: gleeful, glowing children eager to help, carrying things to the car, throwing things in the trash. Charming kids walking the crowd with me as we do our final fundraising bit: I carry our thermometer chart showing what we spend, what we hope to generate and how (t-shirt sales and donations), inviting people to give if they can, to not worry if they can’t — and people are generous as they always are on this final t-ball night “Twenty dollars!” Keldan Harker, 9, exclaims as a dad drops a crisp new bill into the collection basket he’s carrying.

“Yeah, it’s a big one,” I agree. Twenty dollars is a lot to us. But then, at the very end of our stroll around the ball diamond, we’ve canvassed 170 or so people, and one man says, “Sure, I’ll help, taking out his wallet. He flips it open and pinches out a twenty. “Yes!” Keldon and I say, “Thank you!” But this glorious soul, bent slightly at the waist in order to reach the collection basket, he just keeps pinching out one 20-dollar bill out after another. Keldan, his beautiful little sister, Areya, 4, who has been out here since that first chilly, 57-degree opening night 10 weeks earlier, and I, are astonished: one, two, three, four, five 20-dollar bills!

Keldan’s eyes open as wide as mine. Yes! Yes! Yes! And with such stupendous generosity, we are good for another year, raising what we need so we’ll have the cash to do it all again next year. Thank you very much!

As I lock the money in my trunk, Elijah Yelton, 4, one of the Brilliant Ones — oh, my goodness, we have so many stunningly articulate, amazingly bright, thoughtful, talkative, insightful, interested and interesting kids! — he comes up to me: “Aren’t we going to have our final run out to the light pole?” he asks, enunciating every syllable perfectly. And I realize, yes, this is how we’ve been officially ending our nights, up to and including this final potluck picnic trophy night, with a final run.

“Yes, yes,” I say, thanking my wonderful 4-year-old friend. “Yes.”

And so we do. We run out to the first light pole in right field, and with the children gathered round it, I lean into them and ask, “Did you have fun tonight?”

“Yessss!” the children shout back.

“I couldn’t hear you,” I say, and we’re all smiling, we know what’s coming next: “Did you have fun tonight?”

And they scream their bloody fool heads off, half of them hitting notes so high I see white lights dancing across my brain.

And the ceiling is ripped off the sky, their stellar, high C sopranos as fierce and as penetrating, as wonderful and mysterious as a lonesome train whistle piercing the night far out on the plains.

And then Eve Diamond, 7, comes up with her mom, Caryn.

“Eve is concerned,” Caryn says. Oh?

“Yes,” she says. “You asked if the children were coming back next year.” Unh huh? “And Eve was worried,” Caryn says.

Now you have to listen to this, and the next bit, too, and you’ll see why I do this, give up all these Friday nights to be with these kids — because they are so good, as in moral; because they care so much, as in concerned.

“Worried?” I say, looking up (I am still on my knees) at Eve, the seven-year-old blonde beauty standing quietly, soberly, attentively, next her mom.

“Yes,” Caryn says, “because we’re moving to Hawaii, so she can’t come back next year. Eve wanted to make sure you knew that.” Eve is looking at me, her face full of concern. She doesn’t want to let me down. She’d be here if she could. It isn’t her fault. “Okay? Do you see?” her look says.

I do, I say, getting off my knees, and thank you, Eve, for making sure I know.

And then, as I am walking back into the diamond, Dorothy Haddison, 6, another dreamboat, comes alongside me. Looking quite concerned herself. “What, honey?” I say. “Well,” she says thoughtfully, “I don’t know if I will be back next year.”

Of course you don’t, I realize. None of us knows that. What a dumb question I have asked.

“It isn’t that we move every year!” she exclaims, sounding a little embarrassed. Like one shouldn’t move every year. Or maybe that one ought never move. “I just don’t know,” Dorothy says about next summer, and I am deeply touched to have been taken so seriously.

And this is our Perry League, Yellow Springs’ t-ball program – children being thoughtful in ways that surprise and charm you; children being honest and moral in ways that impress and inspire you; children being loving in ways that cut deep, opening up their hearts to you, letting it all pour out. And I thank you, you moms and dads, you grandmothers and grandfathers, you aunts and uncles, you big brothers and big sisters, for letting this happen. And I thank you, my glorious, miraculous t-ball children, for your love is tonic, another healing, soothing layer of dressing for my poor battered, wounded child’s heart — I, a “child of chaos,” the product of a family devastated by violence and addiction — I am grateful. I come to T-ball and my heart soars, my wounds, recently opened, close and heal. The love, not there when I was 2, when I was 3, 4, 5, or 6, it is there now, for me, for any and all of us who dare to be open to it, who dare to give it, who dare to let it in, who dare to soak it up. It is there, all summer long, on that t-ball diamond with those t-ball darlings.

So, thanks for another wonderful, phenomenal, often hilarious, frequently joyful, and always loving, t-ball season. See ya next summer, eh?



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