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T-Ball Journal: Naps and Taps

Until recently, if you had asked me to detail my dream Father's Day (i.e. during my first half-dozen or so years of paternity), the afternoon segment would have sandwiched televised sports around a delicious nap. Lately the nap continues to be a priority (I didn't get one this year and later I was ready for bed way too early - an elemental part of me needs to at least be able to stay awake for the 9 o'clock news), but live sports are replacing the ones on TV. And I'm OK with that.

I'd better be. I'd be stunned if my Father's Day weekends didn't include some sort of youth baseball competition for - conservatively - the next decade. I have mentioned before in this space that my eight-year-old, Noah, is obsessed with the games we play in our league's Junior Division. His almost-six-year-old sister has jumped right into T-Ball this spring and summer and is good at it. Unless I'm completely misinterpreting the situation (always a possibility of course), she's also enjoying it quite a bit. And our little bitty toddler Jenna, who of course has oodles of baseball/softball potential (for one thing, she's showing every indication of being lefthanded!) is only a couple months past two.

Our league takes all of Memorial Day weekend off but plays right through Father's Day and I think that's exactly right. In fact, this is the weekend the games move to the venerable Thillens fields, a North Side youth baseball institution for more than half a century. On the eve of this year's big day, Noah played a morning game with a new team (he was "called up" to a team in the Minor League where the first three innings are coach-pitch and the rest are kid-pitch, i.e., real baseball). His new team, the Rangers, lost 8-3 as Noah made a few decent plays in the outfield (he couldn't quite reach the only fly ball that came anywhere near him), reached on his only at-bat in coach-pitch and struck out in his only chance against a kid.

Then, in the last game of the day, our Dodgers took on the Yankees and struggled initially. With the quick turnover between games and a lack of room on the sidelines of the diamonds at Thillens, we didn't get much of a warm-up (we particularly missed infield practice). Plus, it looked like we might very well be rained out. We saw some distant lightning before the game started and found out later that we just missed being drenched by a thunderstorm that passed through to our east.

Before we knew it, we were behind 6-1 (our T-Ball hitting was sub-par again despite spending the entire practice on it two days prior). But again we rallied, took a 9-7 lead in the bottom of the sixth and preserved the victory in the seventh. The game ended when our youngest player tracked down a seemingly sure double in left-center, turnedm and without hesitating fired a strike to third - where a player who had been to just one practice in the previous month was in perfect position to haul it in and make the strong two-handed tag on the base-runner trying to advance from first. You gotta love baseball.

Father's Day was highlighted by a delightful doubleheader - a tap and T-Ball twin-bill that played out smoothly thanks in largest part to a lucky little coincidence. My daughter Alana's dance recital and rookie league contest were hosted by far North Side landmarks located only two miles from one another. We traveled to St. Scholastica (which would have been slightly more delightful on a 90-plus degree day if the auditorium had been air-conditioned) for the first half. The home of the Stingers is an all-girls school I have driven past for decades on my way from North Side residences to activities in Evanston, but have never visited.

And it was an all-girls dance recital except for one of the teachers (who all did a little performance and were introduced at the start of the show) and some dads and brothers or male friends who played a supporting role in a big dance number early in the show.

Alana's tap dance routine, which she and her classmates had been practicing for months, finally began about 50 minutes after the overall show started. The kids kept their cool in their red-and-white hat-and-dress outfits and seemed to have fun. The tapping wasn't quite as thunderous as it was at the practices back at the small studio where Alana takes classes but they still made some noise. One thing I have learned during Alana's first year of tap dance instruction - the folks who teach these classes and maintain their patience for an hour despite an awesome amount of noise have an early leg up on sainthood. I wonder if that was one of the virtues of the Scholastica character who had the school named after her.

At intermission, my wife went in and helped Alana make her rather jarring change from tap-dance outfit to baseball uniform (they left on her stage make-up, which Alana made sure to show her coach). Then we made our way south on Ridge, west on Touhy, south on Western, west on Peterson and south on Kedzie, parking about a quarter mile north of Devon. Thillens isn't really Thillens Stadium anymore like it was when I played there as a kid affiliated with what I think was called the Old Town Little League (based in Oz Park).

The Thillens family founded the place in 1938 and was going to shut it down in 2005 until the city engineered a takeover. There have been some renovations and while the main field is flanked by two sets of medium-sized bleachers it doesn't have the same feel it used to, when everything was more enclosed. The old closed-in press box is still there but it is detached from a smaller announcing stand that backs up the back-stop which backs up the diamond. Anyway, both the Dodgers and Alana's Red Sox played their games on the facility's secondary field, which meant the folks lugging in the water and snacks (our lucky week) had to haul it more than a little ways extra. And of course we had wanted to make sure we had enough water in our large cooler. I did mention the heat before didn't I? It was OK, I needed the upper-body workout - only a couple hundred more of those and I should be fit as a fiddle.

Alana's team scored a lot of runs and was competitive but didn't quite pull out a victory. The highlight came in the sixth, when the Red Sox reached 19 runs and clinched a tie, at least according to the scoreboard. It only had enough little lights for a one next to the main space for the score so it couldn't show anything higher than 19.

This coming weekend, Alana has a game on Friday and Noah and our Dodgers hit the diamond Saturday and Sunday. Everything else (soccer, dance, swim and guitar lessons) ended during the final official week of spring (leading up to June 21), seemingly freeing up our schedule. But we've got family visiting on Saturday and Sunday and there's a birthday party and a play-date in there somewhere. Sounds like it will again be a challenge to squeeze in the necessary naps. It is a challenge I know I can answer.

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Jim Coffman's daughter is in her first season of T-Ball. Her older brother is in his last year in the Junior Division. Coffman is chronicling his travails as coach of his son's team and observer of his daughter's initial foray into this slice of Americana.

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