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T-Ball Journal: Punked Out

The seasons are winding down and a question begs an answer: Will the kids remember much of anything from all of this? I'm hoping my daughter Alana locked a little something positive into that part of her brain last Saturday during her latest T-Ball showdown. Then again, it's most likely all of this stuff will fade away relatively quickly. As opposed to something really important that is coming up fast - Friday of this week is T-minus-a-month-and-10-days until Alana's sixth birthday and our official alert status is Orange. My wife has made a reservation for a gymnastics party, a preliminary guest list has been drawn up, and we hope to schedule some time next week to purchase invites. An official menu will follow.

coach_jim.jpgBack on the diamond, Alana's Red Sox took on a Giants team with which we are at least moderately familiar. The head coach is a guy from our synagogue, and one of the kids on the team lives across the street from us. Alana played pitcher in the second inning and about six hitters into the frame she put one of her primary skills - she has become adept at aggressively pouncing on ground balls - to work. With the bases loaded, the batter hit a little dribbler. Alana charged the ball, grabbed it and saw the base-runner racing in from third. Before he could get to the plate she put the tag on him for the second out.

Alana's older brother Noah was watching the game at that point and he quickly pointed out that the opposing player in question looked familiar. And after the inning was over Alana rushed over to me and said excitedly "Dad, I tagged out (our neighbor, who will remain anonymous)." Later the boy's dad sidled over and said something to the effect of "You're kid punked out my kid." I'm thinking he used the phrase "punked out" out of context but I kind of understand his decision to do so. For some reason the words are just fun to say.

When we relived the highlights after the game, the tag play was at the top of the list. Rounding it out were the facts that Alana hit the ball well several times, reached base several times, and scored once. The individual nature of the highlights is hinting at something isn't it? Yup, the Red Sox ended up on the wrong side of the score.

I'm hoping the boy from across the street doesn't remember this particular part of his first T-Ball season - and I'm thinking that's not exactly likely. His team has been more than a little more successful than Alana's. In fact, we learned at some point that the Giants have yet to suffer a defeat. There was also this positive development: there didn't seem to be any indication the boy was facing any additional ribbing (he has twin brothers who are a couple years his senior) due to the fact that he had been "tagged out by a girl."

It probably does not come as a tremendous surprise that my earliest baseball memories are neither shiny nor happy. They are also very sketchy. I have disputed the details of many a childhood story told by my mother but my arguments are slightly undermined by the fact that memory is a massive, murky muddle. Fortunately I have some boiler plate recollections that I can bust out for a variety of occasions. Of course then there is the question of whether or not I really remember the events I recount most frequently or if the stories have taken on lives of their own. Hmmmmmmm.

My most prominent youth baseball memory has to do with emotions overflowing as I stand on the pitching rubber. I either just walked in a run after walking the bases loaded or, best-case scenario, perhaps I simply walked three in a row. The coach came out and decided to bring in the centerfielder to pitch, meaning I would take his place. The next guy up hit a ground ball single . . . to center. And I came in to field it . . . and it skipped right through my legs for a kid's grand slam.

I have happier memories of middle school baseball. When I was in eighth grade I made, if I may say so myself, a splendid diving catch while playing left field for the Latin School nine in a contest at some far-off academy - Elgin, I think. We led that game by a run going into the ninth inning. They put a guy on first and then the next guy up blasted a drive right between me and Forest Hoover in the left-center gap. Forest, yes that was his name, got to the ball and heaved it toward the infield. For some reason our pitcher at that point, Brad Erens, came out into short-center to take the relay (he should have been backing up a potential play at the plate). But it paid off because he threw an absolute strike to catcher Deed Whitney (could I make that name up?), who applied the tag for the out and the win.

I can't remember so much stuff I can't even think of something clever to say that I don't remember, but I remember that play, from more than 25 years ago, like it is playing on a highlight reel in my brain.

Noah and Alana have avoided traumatic baseball happenstance so far. Then again, the rookie and junior division games (with hitters either hitting off a tee or taking their swings against soft tosses from their coach and kids never pitching) have been carefully designed to prevent major embarrassments. Crunch time is next year for Noah, when he heads up to the Minor League and kid-pitching (for the final four innings of games).

For now I'll be doing my best to forget the details of Noah's and my Dodgers' only action of last weekend, a 10-or-so-run loss to the league-leading Red Sox. We were done in by second and third innings that saw us retire the first two batters twice in a row only to then allow six and eight runs respectively. We're just about guaranteed to finish fourth in our division's seven-team National League. But hey, in this day and age, the trophies for fourth are approximately one millimeter smaller than the ones for third. And that certainly helps my self esteem.

On the bright side, one of our outfielders caught a fly ball. It was the second caught fly-ball of the season and he'll have to remember that won't he? Of course the game also featured a couple of strikeouts by our best hitter, his first two Ks of the season. Something tells me that memory will linger longer.

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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. (That's Coach Jim in the mug shot at the top of the story, and Coach Jim on the mound while his team wears rally caps in the photo above.

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