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Birthday madness at T-ball

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What is truly remarkable about this T-ball program? It is the kids themselves. Sophia Purdin, 5, for instance. When she came to bat halfway through our 90-minute evening of play, she went first to the on-deck circle. This is where coach Margi Gay, grandmother of three of our current T-ballers, helps the child pick a bat, do a practice swing, and then gets the kid’s name before sending the child to me at the tee at home plate. When no one comes to me at the tee, I look over to the on-deck circle. Sophia is there squatting in front of a fan-shaped array of 10 bats spread out in the grass. She is to choose a bat. She has another bat in her hands and holds it perpendicular to the 10 bats lying in the grass, and then drops her bat on top of the thick ends of the 10 bats in the grass. Her metal bat hits the ten metal and wood bats spread out before her. The bat she drops bounces off the 10 bats lying on the ground and makes a small bell-like ringing-pinging sound. Sophia does this a second time, scooching a little to her right, again dropping her metal bat across the other 10, bling. And again: she picks her bat up, scooches back to her left, and drops it a third time, bling. And a fourth time: lift, scooch, drop, bling. And a fifth and sixth time. Lift, scooch, drop, bling. Lift, scooch, drop, bling. Margi Gay, a perfect T-ball coach, stands over Sophia, patiently watching, waiting, letting this beautiful young T-baller do her work.

It is fascinating. And a little bit mysterious. What is she doing? Why is she doing it? I tell my wife Robin Suits this story when I get home after T-ball and she says Sophia is being a scientist. “She’s doing an experiment.” It’s how kids learn. How they teach themselves. A young scientist, eh? Teaching herself? I recall Sophia studying those bats, listening to that sound. She was so intent. Studious. Yeah, I say, liking the idea. It makes sense.

Sophia is awesome. Playing T-ball with her is a magnificent experience. And she is just one of this gang of 40, 50, 60 kids, each navigating this material world, teaching themselves, teaching us, living lives of unbelievable adventure, building and creating their lives in their own inimitable ways.

Like Lilly Claire Colon, 5, telling me her cap’s size-adjuster in the back was stuck. “You could chew it open,” I said. “I’m not a dog! I’m not a beaver!” she proclaimed with considerable and impressive dramatic flair. “I’m a human being! What are you?”

Tanner Miller, 3, comes to the plate in his Batman T-shirt. He and his family Dawn, Sam, and Luke gave me a Batman-Superman birthday card, thank you very much (my birthday had been two days earlier). Tanner tells me he has a Batman costume with a cape, and it even has something amazing I-could-not-hear-what as he turned his head to look at and reach back to his heel. Wings on his shoes?

Ever Lyons, 3, hits with what most of us would say was the wrong end of the bat, the skinny, “handle” end. Several well-meaning human beings, kids and adults alike, try to show her the proper way to hold and swing the bat. When everyone leaves her be, she immediately flips the bat around, grips the fat, hitting-end in her strong, 3-year-old hands, and guess what? She immediately hits that ball off the tee with that skinny, “wrong” end, sending it skittering quite dramatically into and through the legs of a riotous, rowdy, rough-and-ready gang of infielders.

Rocket Cowperthwaite, 4, and Avery Tobias, 6, asked me as we walked off the diamond at the end of the evening, “How old are you? How old are you?” A couple of people had mentioned my birthday, so I didn’t think too much of it “Seventy-one,” I said, and they both flinched, took a half a step back, and pretty much in perfect unison exclaimed, “Whoa!”

“Yeah,” I said, “I feel the same way,” and then they ran back to the third-base line where an unusual number of kids and adults were loitering about. Becky Reed, a good friend of mine and one of my principle partners in this magic T-ball program, grabbed me at the third baseline: “Some of the kids want to give you something,” she said. “Okay? A birthday —” and then she was surrounded and swallowed up by a sea of charging, howling, laughing, shouting, jubilant children, all armed with balloons pumped full of water. Balloons they threw at me! Twenty kids. Thirty balloons, 40 balloons, 50 balloons bursting on me, against me, children and adults, including myself, laughing, finding this madness quite hilarious. Some even sang the opening line, “Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you,” while the balloons continued to cascade and burst all around me, on me.

And so we ended one of the loveliest T-ball nights I ever experienced, soaking, laughing at and with me -— all of us bringing the night to a close with a wonderfully rich and flavorful homemade chocolate cake (vegan, gluten-free) with summer fresh strawberries embedded, the exquisite work of Sonya Jackson, Ayira and Angela Carley’s mom.

And that’s our Perry League, Yellow Springs’s T-ball program for all our community’s little scientists and mischievous darlings, all our children ages 2–9 regardless of race, color, or creed, sexual orientation, ethnicity, spiritual inclination, ability or disability. We will be at Gaunt Park every Friday night from 6:30–8 p.m. Children can begin to play at any time and there’s no requirement to play every week. Come when you like, come when you can. We’ll be out there for the next four Friday nights, till our final wiener-roast potluck-picnic, trophy-to-every-kid-who-shows-up night, Aug. 5. So, why don’t you come on out, throw a water balloon or two of your own. It’s a lot of fun. Just ask Becky and all her co-conspirators who soaked me but good last week.


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