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Man of the House by Chris Erskine

The elves come out to play

In T-ball, it's all about the size of the fight in the team.

May 29, 2008|Chris Erskine

I REALIZED in the second week of the T-ball season that I had somehow been blessed with a team of elves, leprechauns and Smurfs. There they were, sitting on the bench in the dugout one afternoon, squirming as if on a church pew when I thought: "ELVES! By gawd, the league gave me a roster full of elves!"

Just lucky, I guess. Two months later, I love them like sons.

Indeed, our starting lineup looks something like this (batting averages included):

Sneezy .999

Grumpy .999

Itchy .989

Gooey .999

Louie .898

Lumpy .217

Leaky .000

Foamy .999

Snot 1.000

Yep, we have more little men than Snow White. In the dugout, I have to be careful not to step on them. They are light as airplane pillows, which is another reason I believe they're elves. When our centerfielder collects bugs in his pockets, in the little meadow behind second base, he almost doubles his playing weight.

What's it like coaching elves? There are pluses and minuses. One minus is that we are short on power, particularly in the 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9 spots. The pluses: Elves come ready to play every game, every inning. They are doggedly determined and -- like me, their little leader -- vaguely Napoleonic.

So we play with a chip on our shoulders, relying on lots of singles and savvy base running to squeak by against bigger, stronger teams. The sportswriters call this "small ball." Trust me, nobody plays small ball like the Blue Jay Sluggers.

The other day, we took on the dreaded Yankees, the best T-ball team money can buy.

"How old are those guys?" asks Coach James, my talented assistant.

"Well, the first baseman has a bald spot," I say.

"They're bigger than the Lakers!" James says.

But our elves, mostly 4 and 5, aren't intimidated. They eat intimidation for breakfast. In fact, they eat a lot of things they shouldn't.

"Men," I say before the game, "today you need to keep your fingers out of your noses."

"OK, coach!"

"Hey, Buttermaker," one of the dads yells as we take our positions.

"Huh?"

"Just win, baby."

Whatever. It's hard to win when you don't even keep score. But we triumph in so many other ways. For example, we have the best postgame treats of any of the teams. And the most supportive parents ever -- save for a couple of the dads, who are working behind the scenes to have me impeached. What am I supposed to do with a roster full of elves? Kick Yankee butt, that's what.

Last week's pileup at second base is a perfect example of how hard the Blue Jay Sluggers play. It will no doubt go down in the annals as one of the most exciting plays ever. Scully should've called it. Murray should've been there to write it all down.

Top of the fifth, our fleet second baseman, Sneezy, scoops up a ground ball and begins running for second. Twenty minutes later, he arrives at the base at the exact same time as his own fleet shortstop, Gooey, the fleet centerfielder, Snot, and two of the fleet moms, Monica and Monica, who anticipate the pileup and are there to be sure no one gets too hurt -- you know moms.

Oh, the Yankee base runner is in there somewhere too, all arriving at second base at almost the exact same moment. There is a tremendous crash, a puff of smoke, a cloud of fairy dust. Nobody can see anything for all the bodies. Finally, Sneezy thrusts his arm straight up out of the pile, to indicate he still has the ball and made the play. It's what they call in baseball a bang-bang-bang-bang-bang-bang play.

"Safe!" lies the second base coach, nullifying one of the most amazing defensive plays in T-ball history (we have coaches scattered everywhere, just to be sure there's always someone around to make the wrong call).

"You OK?" I ask Sneezy when he returns to the dugout.

"Blue Jays are tough," Sneezy reminds me, then goes over to sit on his mommy's lap, a serious violation of team policy, but we let it go this one time.

Next time we're fining her big time.

After that, the game is pretty much a blur. It's as if some sort of alcoholic fog has settled in, only there is no alcohol, just the fog and the inevitable headache.

Amazingly, our T-ball league allows no beer sales in the stands or the dugouts. I see this as an affront to the traditions of the game, which have always shown a fine appreciation for the drunken lout. They don't call me Buttermaker for nothing.

But even I'll admit that elves shouldn't be drinking. Not at age 5. Elves have enough issues. And judging from the pizza and wine party we have after the game, so do some of the elves' parents.

"Blue Jays are tough," says Sneezy, wiping his face with his sleeve.

Just drink your milk, stud. Saturday we play the Red Sox.

--

Chris Erskine can be reached at chris.erskine@latimes .com. To read more of his columns, please go to latimes.com/erskine.

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