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Laugh Lines

A Line Drive Right to Her Daddy's, uh, Heart

May 10, 1996|CHRIS ERSKINE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Here I am in the front yard, talking baseball with the little red-haired girl, who's 5 years old and full of promise.

Her cheeks are bubble-gum pink, her eyes as round as a shot glass. As she watches me, her eyes grow even wider, for she has never seen a fat man bend down quite this far.

"Put your glove in the dirt," I say, demonstrating how to field a grounder. "Otherwise the ball will scoot underneath it."

I repeat this several times, slowly and with lots of hand motions, like a guy ordering food in a foreign country.

The little red-haired girl nods as I speak. She is a coach's dream, a thinking ballplayer. Finally, she raises her hand with a question.

"Dad?"

"Yes?"

"Why don't dogs wear shoes?"

We move on to hitting.

She grabs a bat and takes a few practice swings. It's clear right away that she does not have too many fundamental flaws with her swing, except she grips the bat cross-handed and, when she swings, she helicopters around three times before falling on her butt and giggling.

But this isn't the little red-haired girl's biggest problem right now. Her biggest problem is that her 10-year-old brother and his buddy have just shown up. And she happens to be wearing her brother's protective cup.

On the outside of her pants.

Now a lot of coaches agree that 5-year-old girls don't need to wear athletic cups at all. And if they do, the cup should be worn inside the pants, where a brother can't see it.

"Look!" her brother screams. "She's wearing my cup!"

The two boys explode with laughter. They roll around on the lawn, laughing and spewing saliva all over each other for maybe 10 minutes, until finally they either swallow their tongues or pass out.

In the meantime, I give the little red-haired girl a few batting tips.

"Keep your elbow up. Tuck your chin. Bend your knees. Roll your wrists. Slide your front foot. Twist your back leg. Keep your head in. Throw your hands out. Swing level. Swing through."

On the first pitch, she misses by about 4 feet.

"Forget all that stuff," her brother yells. "Just watch the ball, you dweeb."

So she watches the ball.

Boom, on the roof.

Boom, over the hedge.

Boom, on the roof again.

"That's pretty good, honey," I tell her, reaching for more baseballs. "Let's try a few more."

Boom. Boom. Boom.

By now, her mother and several neighbors have come outside to investigate the noise.

There is, I am not kidding, actual applause as the little red-haired girl pounds several more pitches high over my head.

"She's great," a neighbor yells.

"She's our ticket out of the ghetto," my wife yells back.

I kick at the ground. Sure, she's great. But like any front-yard pitcher, I am starting to get a little tired of serving up juicy home-run pitches to this little phenom--I don't care whose kid she is.

"OK, hotshot," I call to her. "Let's see you hit this one."

I fire up my best fastball, a sweet little split-fingered heater.

Boom.

Now let me be clear about one thing: The line drive does not hit me directly in the groin. No way. Not directly. But groins, like ammunition depots, do not necessarily require direct hits. As the crowd gasps, I flop to the ground, experiencing the male equivalent of childbirth.

The kids and their friends quickly determine that I am in intense pain and take appropriate measures.

"Let's go play Nintendo," one suggests. They flee like lawyers at confession.

As they scatter, the little red-haired girl steps forward dragging her bat.

"Dad, did I do something wrong?"

I look up at her.

"You kept your head in, you rolled your wrists, you swung through the ball," I tell her. "You did everything I told you."

She pats me on the shoulder.

"I'm sorry," she says. "Want to borrow my cup?"

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