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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Teed Off


Addison has officially begun playing tee ball. His first practice was Friday, and I'm not sure who was more excited, Addison or his dad. But we took care of that competition by doing the one thing that will escalate any kid's interest (and most parent's exhaustion): we went shopping for new stuff.

We stopped at Blythe's Sporting Goods to pick up some new baseball cleats and a bat. Shoe shopping was easy (minus the constant Colin chasing around the store). The bat shopping, not so much (they actually sell teeny tiny little kid DeMarini baseball bats for $200+ . . . we did not get one of those). Maybe the most difficult thing about the shopping excursion was convincing Addison he didn't need a full arsenal of catcher's gear. 

If you've ever taken a pre-schooler to a practice of any kind of sport or activity, you know that the interest level varies from kid to kid and from second to second. I've experienced the wavering attention, sweeping disinterest, and tapering enthusiasm induced by soccer practice before, and I was pretty much expecting the same thing if not worse with tee ball. The simple fact is, baseball is harder than soccer. 

Any kid can kick a ball or throw it two-handed over their heads. But throwing a baseball at a specific target on command is difficult for some professionals. (Chuck Knoblauch and Steve Sax and many others developed serious psychological blocks that prevented them from getting the ball to first base. Rick Ankiel and Mark Wohlers were two pitchers whose psyches completely unraveled to the point where they became allergic to the strike zone.) Hitting the ball, even on a tee, isn't the easiest thing to do (for some kids, the tee makes it even harder, because they're even more afraid of hitting the tee than they are of missing everything altogether). And catching . . . shoot, catching is just plain hard for most kids.

Long story short, failure to execute difficult skills can cause kids to lose interest really quick.

Addison loved every minute of it, beginning to end.

The team's coach ran a good practice, which was key. He started them off, as every baseball practice should begin, with everyone pairing off and playing catch (in this case they were really playing chase after and pick up). Then they stretched. Then they took turns hitting five balls off the tee (which Addison was anxiously ready to begin from the moment he stepped out of the van, making his desires known to anyone who would listen). Batting practice also gives the kids who aren't hitting a chance to practice their fielding . . . which was pretty hilarious.

But here's what I noticed: when Addison was in the field, he wanted to field every ground ball. He beckoned the batter to run on every hit, not just their fifth and final one. When it was his turn to hit, he bellowed out commands to all the kids and the coach to take their positions fast because he was ready to hit. As soon as his previous shot stopped rolling, he asked for the next ball and gripped his bat impatiently until the team was ready for the next screaming liner. 

The only real time he got distracted was when he was playing first base and wanted to give me a high five after every play (and, at the end of practice, when he discovered some dog poo by the fence and ordered the entire team over for a look). He even caught a throw at first base, got momentarily ecstatic, and then returned to the flow of the game as if he realized this feat should be viewed as absolutely normal now that he had arrived as a real live baseball player.

You can set aside thoughts of me being an overbearing baseball dad who demands his kid to excel to MLB All-Star status at the risk of colossal disappointment. What I've always wanted has been for Addison to enjoy baseball. I was never all that good, really. I don't have tons of natural ability, and I would expect Addison to inherit my limitations. But the fact that he shows every sign of absolutely being absorbed and infatuated with the game . . . it's like an adrenaline overdose.

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