Excerpt from The Extension, Fall 2020
For 35 years I have coached the Yellow Springs T-ball program. I wrote columns in the Yellow Springs News about our weekly T-ball sessions. But this year because of the pandemic, the T-ball season and any columns I would have written, have been cancelled. I miss the kids, I miss our Friday night games, and I miss the stories I could have written about these amazing children, like these from my past columns:
Maggie Bullock stands at the home plate in front of the tee. She says, “Dog dog, deer, dog dog.” I lean forward and lower my head so I am looking her in the eyes: “Dog dog what?” I ask. She lifts her head, her bouncy, naturally and tightly coiled curls swaying and springing. They’re like a crown for some magical mystery queen. “Dog what?” I repeat and she takes a step toward me and says with considerable force and fiery-eyed indignation, “I’m four!” Four? “Four! Four-and-a-half! Four!” she insists. I have no idea how I had affronted her – “I’m four, you idiot,” she seemed to be saying – but she forgives me immediately. I trot down to first base with her. I ask her to tell her father, Ben Bullock, our first base coach and one of the most loving people on a field full of loving people. “Tell your dad what you told me,” I suggest to Maggie. She does. Ben listens, nods, then tells me she saw dog prints and deer prints, nodding to a set of dog prints right next to the base right there at our feet.
“I don’t know how to play,” Matthew Drummond, 3, says as he comes to the plate.
“None of us do,” I say, which is why we try to have an adult (or older sibling) at every base. A child hits the ball. We say, “Drop the bat and run to first!” and the mysteries unfold: most of the children do not “drop the bat.” They stand staring at the ball they’ve just hit that has stirred up this hornet’s nest of wild child scrambling. We say it five, six, seven times, usually needing to physically touch the bat, gently pushing it down toward the ground. Sometimes we even need to peel the kid’s fingers back: “Let go. Drop the bat. Drop the bat.”
So when we say, “run to first,” we may as well be speaking Cantonese.
The colorful mosaic that is the Perry League continues to startle, astound, and delight. Our tiniest children spontaneously bring me lovely little bouquets of flowers – such as 2-and-a-half-year old Madelin Maguire handing me a clutch of clover, maybe six or seven flowers all told, while her sidekick Jane Croshier, 4, offered up a fatter, 25-30 flower bunch. And they walk up to me in the middle of the action.
“Here,” Madeline Maguire says offering me her kiss of clover.
“Here,” Jane Croshier says lifting her fat generous bouquet up to me.
And my heart melts: a burst of fresh, just-picked flowers from a pair of angels of t-ball!
Now back to 2-year-old Kian Rainey. He’s been one of those marvels that keep my coming back to this program year after year. A beautiful boy, as lovely as an angel’s dream, as delightful as the first beam of sun in the morning, he loves this game, managing to get here, thank you, mother Amy Boblitt, every single Friday night. When he came to the plate his third time at bat he wanted the tee higher. It’s a hollow black rubber tube with a smaller, also hollow, black rubber tube pushed down into it. This inner hollow tube can be pulled up or pushed down so a child has the option of hitting the ball at a height ranging anywhere from 24 to 36 inches.
Kian, who is about 34 inches tall, steps up to the tee. His grin is so warm, so passionate, you just want to hug him – for yourself, for the love that moves through you, a love triggered by his joy and abandon, his complete surrender to the perfection of this moment. He says, “Wannit eye-er.” What? I say. “Wann-it EYE-er,” he says, emphasizing the first syllable of that second pair of sounds. “Oh!” I say, getting it, “you want it higher?”
“Yes,” he says, directing that love light of his on me now, he’s grateful I have understood. “Yes. Wann-it eye-er.”
I raise it.
“Eye-er,” he says.
I raise it again: “Okay?”
He says nothing. “Higher?” I say, thinking that is what his silence means. I pull the tee to its full 36-inch height.
His eyes sparkle and flash, his smile widens and deepens simultaneously. Clearly he is pleased. “Yes!” he says.
Jonah Kintner, 8, is one of my favorite human beings, always reminding me of Tarzan because of his powerful physique and vine-swinging, leaping, flying, yowling ways. He steps to the tee and belts one over everyone’s head, and then after he’s rounded the bases and is back at home, he shows me another of the mysteries of childhood.
Elijah Yelton, 3, comes to the plate. Jonah is compelled to help him bat. I say, “No! No! He doesn’t want any help. He wants to do it himself.” (Elijah’s grandfather, Charlie Bunton, had offered to help Elijah a couple weeks ago when Elijah simply stood at the plate, in front of the tee for the longest time, doing nothing, nothing, nothing. But when Charlie offered to help, Elijah sprang to life saying, “No! No! I want to do it myself.”) I try to tell Jonah this, try to hold him back, but Jonah will not be denied. So after four tries, I give in. “Okay, go ahead,” I say, fully expecting Elijah to be rejecting this older boy’s offers of help. But no! This is not the case. Instead, here is young Elijah listening attentively to Jonah as he explains how you should hold the bat, how you should swing it.
“You have to swing hard,” Jonah says swinging so hard my shoulder joints ache just watching. “Hard,” he says nodding his head in a serious, thoughtful, this-is-serious-business sort of way.
“Why?” Elijah asks and I see how rapt Elijah has been, how he has been hanging on Jonah’s every word. And I am amazed as I was when my own now-grown daughter was but a tyke when I first discovered how kids are fascinated by older kids. As if they were magicians. With the answer to all Life’s problems.
“I don’t know,” Jonah says, surprising me with his humility, his honesty.
“Okay,” Elijah says stepping to the tee, and with not a moment’s hesitation, he takes a mighty swing – he swings hard – and bam! He pops the ball right off the tee!
And that’s a slice of the T-ball life I will be denied this pandemic 2020 summer. But God willing, we’ll be out there and at it again next summer. Ready and raring to go.