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JACK SMITH

Hit Parade : If You're a Baseball Fan, a T-Ball Game May Leave You in a State of Permanent Disorientation

July 13, 1986|JACK SMITH

I saw my first T-ball game one recent Saturday morning out at Mar Vista Park on the Westside.

My grandson, Casey, was playing first base for the Orioles against the Dodgers.

If you are a baseball fan, a T-ball game may leave you in a state of permanent disorientation. Mere baseball will never seem the same again.

The players were mostly boys between the ages of 6 and 8. I believe the Dodgers had one girl; the Orioles were supposed to have one girl but she didn't show up.

I was reminded that at the ages of 6, 7 and 8, boys have not yet developed the athletic coordination that makes them so beautiful to watch at their games in later years. But now there is a kind of unvanquishable gallantry in their ineptitude.

And they are old enough that there is some sign of the grace that is to come; now and then a ball is struck cleanly, a fly is caught, a grounder is fielded--but mostly it is one catastrophe after another.

It is called T-ball because the ball is hit off a tee of adjustable height, so that it can be set to suit every batter. There is no pitching because few boys could hit a moving ball, and few could throw one across the plate with any consistency. Every at-bat would be a strikeout or a walk.

It was a pretty day; the sky was blue. A light breeze blew in the pine and eucalyptus trees. Mothers, fathers and siblings sunned in the bleachers along the first- and third-base lines. The Orioles wore orange, white and black; the Dodgers were in Dodger blue and white.

I tried to keep score. It wasn't easy.

A side is retired after three outs or after 10 men have batted, whichever comes first; it would take most of the day for a team to make three legitimate outs. Also, whenever the ball is thrown across home plate, all runners must stop where they are. Otherwise, the game would consist of continual scoring.

The Orioles were up first.

The first batter hit a slow roller to the pitcher. (Though the pitcher doesn't pitch, he still fields.) He bobbled the ball, kicked it and dropped it twice, by which time the runner had safely reached first. The pitcher threw the ball past home plate to interdict any further base running. Otherwise, the runner could easily have stolen all three remaining bases, since the fielders would never have been able to catch up with him.

The second batter hit a bouncer to the shortstop, who got in its way, knocked it down, fell to his knees, tried to pick it up, dribbled it away and finally trapped it in both hands, by which time, of course, the batter was rounding first and the first runner was rounding third. The shortstop alertly threw to home, thus stopping a run.

The third batter hit a Texas leaguer over second base, setting up a train of horrible sequences. The shortstop, the second baseman and the center fielder gave chase. Two of them bumped into each other and fell down. The third ran after the ball and fell on it. It squirted away. He scrambled to it, came up with it and tried to throw it home, but the ball merely rolled off his hand and fell about six feet toward second. Meanwhile, all three runners had scored.

Orioles 3, Dodgers 0.

My grandson was up next. On his first swing he hit a high fly into right center field. The assorted fielders started after it like a pack of dogs chasing a fox. It came to a stop, and they fell on it like a football scrimmage line. Meanwhile, my grandson had run the bases for a clean home run.

Orioles 4, Dodgers 0.

The next batter hit a roller to short. The shortstop bobbled the ball and finally got it in hand, but his throw to first was too short and too late. Runner safe.

The next batter hit a single to third.

The next batter hit a sharp grounder down the third-base line into left field for a home run.

Orioles 7, Dodgers 0.

The next three batters all got to first base on infield errors, but the last one being the 10th batter the side was out, leaving the bases loaded.

The bottom half of the inning was pretty much like the top, except that my grandson caught a throw from the pitcher for the first clean putout of the game.

At the end of the inning I checked my score with the Orioles' assistant coach--a young woman named Cindy who carried a clipboard; she seemed to be in charge of the lineup and the batting order.

She confirmed my calculations that the score was Orioles 7, Dodgers 6.

There were two more innings. I gave up trying to keep score. My grandson made two more home runs for a perfect day at bat, and two more putouts.

"Do you realize," said my son, who was sitting with me, "that if he can do that 15 years from now, he'll be making a million dollars a year?"

At the end I checked again with Cindy. She said, "It was Orioles 21, and Dodgers either 19 or 20."

It may be too early, but if I were the Los Angeles Dodgers I'd get a scout out there.

Those kids play the Dodgers' kind of baseball.

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