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T-Ball Journal: Pink & Blue

The superficial ways girl T-Ball players are different than boys become apparent at practice. For one thing, it appears the boys have more of an aptitude for careers in archeology.

"I don't know what it is with you guys and the dirt," said an exasperated assistant coach at my almost-six-year-old daughter Alana's most recent training session. He made the statement in lieu of what would have been at least his fifth admonition to "get up out of the dust already." Fortunately the wind wasn't up and therefore the boys' little excavations weren't resulting in decreased air quality. There have been seriously breezy days as the season has progressed but still nothing like the Great Opening Day Dust Storm of 2007.

Alana and the two other girls on her team - who all occasionally kick up a little dirt but don't dive in like the fellas - don't necessarily pay better attention than the boys . . . Then again I suppose it is most accurate to say the more attentive boys zone out about as frequently as their female teammates. But the girls definitely don't share many of the boys' commitment to building the best darn dirt pile anyone in these parts has ever seen.

A few of my eight-year-old son Noah's younger teammates on our junior division (T-Ball/coach-pitch) Dodgers are still occasionally captivated by what's under their feet. But having had a chance to watch several games at the next level (the Minors) this summer, it appears the fascination fades away completely as double digits approach. Or maybe 10-year-olds are just better at controlling the urge to get in touch with the earth.

One final thought: when she was a toddler, Alana, who still isn't averse to marching around in a nice-and-grubby uniform an hour after the game, was a big fan of a nearby sandbox. But that faded away after a couple years. So maybe it is just a matter of the girls being a little bit ahead of the boys. Not exactly a shocker.

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Another surface difference is obviously appearance. There isn't a rule that girls who play baseball at our park keep their hair long, but it seems like they all (including Alana and her teammates) have seriously cute ponytails sticking out the back of their hats. And you can probably guess which gender brought the pink bat the first time the Red Sox got together.

We have seen a couple girls on other teams with pink mitts and even a pink helmet or two. But Alana, after using the pink bat in her first few games, decided to go with a less flashy model. And at one point one of the moms of one of the boys on the team said quietly that you could tell who the girls were by the way they ran. She then quickly added "except yours of course."

I suppose the most surprising thing is that fundamentally there really aren't many differences between the girls and the boys, except of course the difference in numbers (no team has more than a few girls on its roster). Alana's practice revealed, as had others before it, that some of the girls are fast and some of the boys are slow. Some of the girls have good arms and some of the boys don't. Some do a good job scooping up ground balls and they all struggle on pop flies. And I know at any given time Alana cares considerably more than many of the guys what the score is.

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While we're on the subject of practices, I do wonder what activity the person who first said "practice makes perfect" could possibly have been watching. Clearly it wasn't youth baseball. I would be overjoyed if someone could officially confirm that a practice I coached "made slightly improved." And while I am of course familiar with the revised edition of the conventional wisdom, i.e. "practice doesn't make perfect, perfect practice makes . . . etc. etc., it is all obviously of a piece. Practice well enough and you will play well.

It has been my experience that sometimes that is the case and sometimes not. Fortunately I've always been confident that the squad of seven- and eight-year-olds that I coach is not alone . . . that none of the teams in our league have yet even approached training perfection.

But that was before Sunday, when an opposing team, which I happened to know was without its best player, made all the plays in the field and hit a ton for six straight innings. Noah's and my team lost by 20 (if not 21 or 22) and it probably could have been worse. At the end of the weekend our record stood at 5-6-1. We have two more regular season games and then the playoffs start.

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Noah had a solid game at the plate, blasting a legitimate triple (as opposed to the ground balls followed by two throwing errors that kids so endearingly translate into three-baggers) and beating out a couple coach-pitch infield hits. But on this day all the Dodgers struggled defensively - probably was the defensive chart.

There was one highlight in the field in the fifth inning. My shortstop managed to fill his entire glove with dirt, then hurriedly dumped it out and got the glove back on his hand in time to scoop up a ground ball and make a throw. With the ability to pull off that sort of slight of hand, he'll eventually have to consider a career in entertainment.

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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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