Last week, for the first time ever during a baseball game, I slid into first base.
And I wasn’t even playing.
It was the opening game for my son Daniel’s Little League team – or “Yiddel League” as we call it, ages 4 and 5, Tee-Ball division. My wife signed him up because he is way more athletic than I am, and she figured that someone in the family should be good at sports, in case we have some sports-related emergency, such as that we have an important object the size of a baseball that we have to get through an upstairs window.
When I was a kid, I was really bad at sports. (I’m probably still really bad, but I don’t know for sure, because I don’t play sports. These days I get most of my exercise in the form of running late to shul.) I used to play baseball in camp, and I would always try to get a position that allowed me to stand as far back as possible, ideally in a different zip code. Then I would stand around and swat at the flies going up my nose and daven that the ball wouldn’t come anywhere near me.
Actually, that’s not true. Baseball was the last thing I was thinking about. But then the ball would land two feet away from me, and all of a sudden everyone was shrieking at me because I was standing right near it and facing the other direction.
“This time you’re going to run home. But not to our home.”
But the first thing that I noticed when I got to the Tee-Ball game was that the atmosphere in general was very hemish -- laid back. It wasn’t one of those competitive games where everyone takes it seriously and parents are yelling at the umpire. In fact, the parents’ primary concern was less about whether their kids actually played well and more about taking pictures of them. Players kept wandering off the field for drinks, and younger siblings kept toddling onto the field in the middle of the game to hug their older brothers.
For starters, according to league rules, there are no strikes and no outs. All the players on one team line up to hit the ball, and then they run to first base while the kids on the other team dive for the ball and then try to get it back to the pitcher. Except that technically, there is no pitcher, because it’s Tee-Ball. There’s just a guy with a glove standing on the pitcher’s mound. Also, the runner is supposed to stop at first base, because it generally takes the fielders so long to get the ball back to the pitcher that he could easily make it to California. But sometimes the runners keep running anyway, occasionally in the wrong direction. I overheard one father on third telling his son, “When that boy hits the ball, you’re going to run. Remember last time, when you ran back toward second base? This time you’re going to run home. But not to our home.”
Once your son gets to first base, it’s the next kid’s turn, and as soon as he hits the ball, your son is supposed to run to second. But sometimes your son is staring off into space, thinking about airplanes, and he misses his chance to run, and suddenly he looks up and realizes that the other kid is on the base with him. At that point he could technically sneak onto the next base, except that the kid in front of him is still standing on second, picking his nose. So your son stays on first, and spends the rest of the time running with this other kid alongside him. So it’s not uncommon for more than one child to score at a time.
But the biggest workout in Tee-ball is for the parents, because 4 and 5 year old kids aren’t always on the ball, so to speak. So let’s say your child is standing way out in the field, and the ball rolls to a stop next to him. Now your child has no idea, because he’s turned totally around and watching an entirely different game. So it’s now your job, as a parent, to try to activate him from the sidelines.
“THE BALL!” you yell. “THE BALL!”
So your child looks at you for a minute, and then looks down and sees the ball. The ball! Right here in the middle of a Little League game! So he picks up the ball, and looks back at you and smiles, as if to say, “Did I just win Little League?”
“THROW THE BALL!” you shriek. “
Meanwhile, the parents on the other team are shrieking at their child, trying to get him to remember to actually run after he hits the ball it and not bring the bat with him. Some kids would only run while holding their parents’ hands, but my son was content as long as I ran behind him and kept shouting, “RUNRUNRUNRUNRUN--WHOOPS!“
That was when I slid into the mud. We were playing right after a rainstorm, and there was basically a swamp next to first base. I slid right across it and landed on my back, splashing my son in the process. Thanks goodness the first baseman was nowhere to be found, or I would have splashed him too.
So the game was mainly for the parents. I got the idea that most of the kids would have been happier if we parents had played Tee-Ball so they could go off and play. In fact, my 3-year-old son Heshy had been playing off to the side somewhere for the entire game, except for a brief period when he put on an adult-sized glove and stood out in the field next to Daniel for moral support. And when Heshy got into the car, I noticed that he was muddy too.
“I also fell in the mud,” Heshy said.
“By mistake?” I asked.
“No,” he said. That was his whole answer.
I still don’t see the appeal of sliding into bases. But the point is that everyone had a really great time, even though we didn’t keep score.
Especially since we didn’t keep score. Because we lost, 117 to 98.