Prior to accompanying my 4-year-old son to his first YMCA youth t-ball game, I was full of questions.
Well, it was just one question, really, but it had several component parts. Five years ago, it was 2014. Five years ago, I was sitting in this office, at this desk, writing this column, and it seems, at least to me, as though about seven weeks have passed. Past the age of 30, I’ve learned, Christmases come about two months apart. Were I to write “2014” on some document in error, it would not surprise me in the least.
And yet, at the time, some of our dedicated youth t-ballers were, well, in utero. The intervening weeks and months have provided ample time to learn things like basic bladder control, and how to hold a pencil, but if you’ve ever given a 4-year-old an instruction for he or she to follow, then you know: they don’t. They won’t. They will yell something about Paw Patrol then head for the fridge.
Which brings us back to my question: How were these seeming fetuses going to be organized into something that resembled a baseball game? How was this going to work? What, exactly, was going to unfold here?
At the time, I couldn’t have imagined my answer would be “the absolute greatest comedy to which I have ever been exposed.”
After a slightly disappointing start — naturally he expected his rookie debut would take place at Wrigley Field, not inside an auditorium — things were ready to get underway.
“Baseball is not about winning or losing,” he said sternly, head down, eyes up, as if delivering the sagest advice he had to offer. “It is about winning.”
Now, I’m fairly certain that’s not the “YMCA way,” but I know where he gets it from, so I kept quiet...
Youth baseball, basketball, soccer, t-ball and volleyball sound like completely different sports, but they’re not. In each, a ball is released into a mass of children, who form an amorphous blob around whatever sort of ball it is, then that blob kind of, shifts around the gym or field. People cheer for the amorphous blob — those people are as amused as very, very exhausted people can be — and all is well.
So the ball pops off the tee, lands with a thud just a few feet short of first base, and the blob begins to take shape: the outfielders run for it, kids on the bench run for it, their toddler siblings run for it, moms and dads run after those toddler siblings...the batter himself runs for it.
Our batter, no doubt surging with the adrenaline brought on by his big moment, is first to the ball, and successfully throws himself out. A cheer erupts.
In fact, I’d guess four out of five of our youth batters chased down their own ball. Once in a while though, someone would run for base. On rarer occasion, it would be first base.
Now, thanks to Cincinnati Reds outfielder Yasiel Puig, my son licks his bat for good luck. This is no subtle lick either; it’s a whole affair, up and down the bat...sometimes twice if I can’t get there quickly enough. Luck, however, wouldn’t be needed on this day, no it would not...mainly because everyone got to keep on swinging until the ball went somewhere.
In the end, after the blob had dissipated and the requisite Gold Fish crackers and Gatorade had been consumed, came the question:
“Did we win?!”
I told him everyone won, not because I’m the “everybody gets a trophy” sort, but because there was positively no discernible way to have kept score.
But it was a lie. There absolutely were winners, participants whose performance we should be both in awe of, and inspired by.
The adult volunteers.