T-Ball, the Second Coming and Oysters

My daughter, who lives in Nashville, TN, recently sent me a photo of “Opening Day” for the area T-Ball league. In case you didn’t know or have been living under a rock, T-Ball is for boys and girls 3 to 5 just learning to hit a ball. The ball is placed on a “tee” to ensure the young batter sees the ball, swings at the stationary spheroid and whacks it into the infield, outfield or anyplace, as long as it moves off the tee.  As the little “ballers” progress, their coach tosses a few pitches to them from behind a line ten feet away.  After three contactless swings, the ball goes back on the tee.

While in Tennessee to visit my kids and grands, I attended not one, but three, T-ball games.  My Knoxville grandson, who just turned 5, is in his second year of playing and I must say, he is quite good.  He has gone from fetching the ball after he hits it, handing it to the opposing team and strolling to first base, to making solid contact with the ball and running in the correct direction around the bases. (He would make the traffic circle designers proud.)  Some of his younger teammates still sit and sift through the dirt in the outfield and run the wrong way if they manage to knock the ball off the tee. All-in-all, it is quite entertaining and the kids seem to be having a good time.

As I sat in a chair for the second game, because I had fallen off the bleachers during the first one, I pondered over the number of parents, grandparents and other assorted adults there to watch their offspring attempt to learn a team sport.  I looked around at the number of people who showed up to cheer on their miniature athletes and thought to myself, there won’t be this many people showing up for the Second Coming.  The whole scene brought back memories of some thirty to forty odd years ago when I was one of those enthusiastic parents.  I swelled with pride when one of my own three children batted, kicked or dribbled amidst a sea of shouting “atta-girls and atta-boys.”

After five days of soaking up the love of Knoxville Grands, I headed over to Nashville and attended my other grandson’s T-ball game where the scene was a little more laid back.  It resembled a Unified sport where each tiny player had at least one adult coaching them on what to do next.  My son-in-law, the reluctant first base coach, said in his wisdom, “I don’t want to be here more than Judah does.”  When the coach’s own son, Jameson, crawled into the regulation size bat bag and took a nap, I had to wonder why this Saturday morning event consumed so many of us.  I admit, all three of my kids played sports, rode horses, took guitar lesson and competed in gymnastics.  Spending an inordinate amount of time shuttling kids around Johnson City, TN in the ‘80s and ‘90s wasn’t lost on me as I sat through the games and cheered on my young grandsons. 

When I was a kid, we had alleys, backyards and the run of the block.  The neighborhood gang consisted of the Horstmans, Mankers and Bells with a few lonely-only kids thrown into the mix. We gathered on weekends and summer evenings to play Capture the Flag and Kick the Can.  On many Saturday mornings, I would make a six block walk alone to the Carnegie Library at the corner of Wabash and Washington Streets to hide in the magazine stacks and peruse through copy after copy of The National Horseman.  Other Saturdays, I would head to the Strand Theatre and watch The Three Stooges, Mickey Mouse or Bugs Bunny.  Unfortunately, parents of today are reluctant to let their children out of their sight, let alone give them the run of a several block radius.  I look back with great fondness for the freedom to play and cruise around without the anxiety that sometimes comes with living in today’s world.

However, there are so many occasions for kids to participate in a variety of activities and experiences nowadays. Almost every possible sport is offered to both boys and girls of all ages. My granddaughters play tennis, soccer, basketball, participate on swim teams, run cross country, belong to 4-H and one of them is the keyboardist for an all-girl rock band. Not one of them is over the age of ten.  Shakespeare’s quote “The world is mine oyster,” comes to mind when I think of all of the opportunities children have today. When I visit them in Tennessee, I am exhausted just watching the endless loop of drop-offs and pick-ups. However, they are thriving in a world of immense possibilities. 

It is easy for me to be the armchair grandparent and lament over the good old days, but the advantages of experiential learning cannot be overlooked.  Children with social differences learn appropriate interactions with peers in a structured setting preparing them for life in school and later on, a workplace.  They learn about rules and fair play.  They step away from screen time and play in real time with real life consequences.  The multitude of opportunities for boys and girls to engage in activities across all domains is endless.  With fewer than two percent of NCAA athletes going on to be professional in a given sport, it is unlikely most of the tiny T-Ballers I saw two weeks ago will make their living as professional baseball players.  Except my grandsons.  Most definitely they will be the pearls living in that oyster shell!

– Gwynn Wills is a former speech therapist, certified Amherst Writers and Artists workshop Affiliate and Leader and founder of The Calliope Writers Group. After growing up in Crawfordsville, her and her husband returned several years ago.