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STYLE & CULTURE

A little madness, a lot of 'cheese'

March 12, 2003|CHRIS ERSKINE

IT looks like Woodstock over at the tent where they are taking the team pictures. There are bodies in the grass. Long lines. Pandemonium. Panic. The scent of bare, unwashed skin.

"I've never seen anything like this," one dad moans.

"I like it too," I say.

There's a Mardi Gras mentality and the hint of impending doom. As a longtime Cubs fan, this leads me to believe that another baseball season is about to begin. But first, there are these team pictures to be taken.

"Coach, line your players up here," someone screams. "Shortest to tallest."

"Us?"

"Everybody," she screams.

At first glance, there seem to be 20 teams vying to get into the chute that leads to the photo area. Parents fill out order forms as kids tuck in their shirts.

New baseball gloves begin to crisp in the warm noontime sun. Dads begin to smell like dads.

"Are you guys ready?" someone asks.

"Do we look ready?" I say.

"Come in anyway," he says.

Our young softball team trusts that this Moses knows his way, but we don't really care. We just follow the guy with the clipboard.

"Shortest to tallest?" he says.

"That's us," I say.

It is one of the miracles of nature that we will, in a month or so, get the correct team photos. To this day, I'm not sure how these things ever work out. The process appears as random as a frat house brawl. As capricious as sudden wealth.

"OK, smile," says the photographer.

We smile. He clicks the camera, capturing a million freckles and 20 grand in orthodontia. Forever.

"You blinked," he says to the little girl.

"Yeah, but how'd her teeth look?" I wonder.

On the way out of the picture area, I yell, "This way, everyone!" and someone else's team begins to follow me. Just my luck, a dozen 7-year-old Cubs, hats crooked.

They follow me several steps before realizing that I am not the guy to follow. Cubs are like that. Trusting. Slow-witted. Occasionally very lost.

"He's not our coach," one of them says.

"He's not?"

"No, you idiot."

"He looks like our coach."

"You're an idiot," the Cubbie says, then smacks the kid on the arm, probably the one he throws with.

Another spring of Little League is upon us, along with the social obligations that accompany it. Today, we have team photos and the parade of teams, a five-hour decathlon of boredom, joy and terror you find only in the better suburbs.

When did some guy stand up and shout, "What this little town needs is a five-hour decathlon of boredom, joy and terror!" But thank goodness he did.

"What do we do now, Coach?" one of the players asks after we finish with photos.

"The parade of teams," I say excitedly.

"How long will that take?"

"We'll be out of here by June."

Of course, the parade of teams never goes quite that quickly. The little kids march first. Then the older kids.

There's the National Anthem and an inspirational speech. Then another one. Then some awards.

A first pitch. A celebrity guest. The Canadian anthem. More speeches. More awards.

I begin to worry about some of the pregnant mothers. Will we be out of here in time? Is there a doctor in the house? Will we soon have newborns writhing in the soft spring grass?

Our team stands out in shallow left field, straining to hear the speeches and thinking positive thoughts. We rehearse double-plays in our heads. Imagine clutch hits. Wonder where the nearest bathrooms are.

"You see that mother?" one of the dads asks.

"Which one?"

"The one with the short blond hair and the knickers," he says.

"Knickers?" I say.

"Next year, draft her kid," he says.

Now, in our flirty little town, a few coaches operate that way. On draft night, some coaches fill their rosters with the children of the most attractive mothers. It's like one of those sexy reality shows. Like something that would get a 30 share.

I've never operated that way. On our teams, we draft based on talent. We draft on attitude. We draft on social skills, poise, a winning smile.

And if her kid happens to be a pretty good softball player, all the better.

Next week: Surviving draft night.

Chris Erskine's column is published Wednesdays. He can be reached at chris.erskine@latimes.com.

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