THE SONIC BOOMER
It may be football season everywhere else, but at Willows Park in Royal Palm Beach, it’s baseball season.
Pre-season practice started two weeks ago, and if you want to see the cutest baseball players ever, head over there about 6 p.m. any weeknight or during the day on Saturday.
I don’t mean cute in the way you teenage girls think of cute. I’m talking t-ball cute. I’m talking 4-year-olds who are barely potty-trained, pulling up their pants as they run around the bases — if they can figure out where the next base is.
I had the privilege of sitting in on a practice because my grandson Mason is on a team. Mason will turn four this month (as he would be the first to tell you), so this will be his first team sport — if you can call what they had out there a “team.”
My hat is off to the dads who have agreed to give up every Saturday and one night a week to herd these kittens. The first thing they do is get them into a line for stretching exercises. Sounds easy, but many of the kids don’t know their left foot from their right. Their hats are too big. They’re distracted by anything. It was hilarious.
Next, the coaches divide them up and begin tossing balls to them. Catching one is a rarity, but fortunately, the kids are built close to the ground. “Grounders” could well refer to the players instead of the balls. But the kids have tons of energy and chase the balls over and over again as they roll past. They don’t complain; they love it. The hardest thing for them seems to be picking up the ball using a baseball glove.
Then they toss the ball back to the coach, and some of these kids had pretty good arms. The coaches were ducking like crazy.
Next, all the kids throw down their gloves, pick up their bats and move over to the tee. This is where Mason came in last, since he had to stop and make sure all the gloves were lined up nicely. “That’s better,” he said. (A kid after my own heart.)
A baseball tee is like a golf tee, but larger. The coach places the ball on the tee so that the kids don’t have to gauge speed and distance. All they have to gauge is accuracy. That’s challenge enough, because any 4-year-old can quickly figure out that if they swing at the ball, they may miss but, if they swing at the tee, the ball will fall off every time. It’s a learning process.
Before they take the outfield, the coaches tell them to go get a drink of water. At this point, several of the kids will run over to the coach to tell him that they have already had a drink or they’re not thirsty or ask why the is sky blue. Surrounded by this knee-high chattering, the exasperated coach might shout, “Don’t question the coach or you’ll be running the bases!” This is less effective than you’d think.
They love to run the bases. They love to run anywhere.
Mason and a little girl were both assigned to stand on the pitcher’s mound, and I was proud to see how they worked this out between themselves, each carefully monitoring exactly one half of the mound, except when Mason had to dig in the sand for bugs.
At this point, I got up to change seats, and one little boy rushed over to the fence and worriedly asked, “Are you leaving?” It wasn’t Mason; I don’t know who it was. But I assured him I was not, and that I only wanted to get a better view. He was satisfied with this but continued to check on me.
Oh, I wasn’t going anywhere. I wouldn’t have missed this for the world.