Volume 75, Number 50 | May 3 - 9 2006

Sports

Manager Joe Bosch surveys the outfield with batter Dylan Tauss

Youngest Little League players have it down to a T

By Judith Stiles

The competition to get into preschool and then the “right” kindergarten is fierce in New York City. So it is no wonder that parents of 6-year-olds in Greenwich Village Little League have crafted a totally noncompetitive T-ball division where outs are not outs, and never a peep is heard from the adults about the score.

Equality reigns for the youngsters in T-ball, even though ability, interest and attention spans for the game are wildly different for every little snowflake of a kid in uniform.

In a recent game, when first baseman Fischer Smith of the Dodgers tagged one runner out, he and his teammates jumped up gleefully shouting, “Out! He’s out!” as the parents overlooked their cries, and the runner was allowed to remain on base and continue. After the “call,” a few of the Dodgers looked downright deflated.

In this T-ball game their were six eager fathers in the outfield along with nine players, and no moms, except one who was lounging in left field with a younger sibling, as they enjoyed the beautiful day. Every person on the Rockies (and we don’t call them opponents), got a turn at bat, before the side was retired. And no arguing about calls with the umpire because, well, there isn’t one.

The trademark for T-ball was registered with the United States government by Dr. Dayton Hobbs in the early 1970s, though there are claims it existed long before that. The ball is placed on an adjustable tee at home plate at an appropriate height for the batter to strike the ball, which is a softer form of a regular hardball. Conceptually the rules of the game are designed to maximize the participation of all players, so they can learn how to play the game and bat with no pressure.

“ ‘T’ is a great letter in the alphabet,” said division head Chris McGuinness, laughing, when asked what he thinks of this relatively newfangled game called T-ball. All joking aside, he remains a big fan of T-ball because it builds confidence and skills, such as batting and catching.

However, one old-timer on the sidelines, who wished to remain anonymous, just scratched his head and said he never had such a thing when he was 6 years old, playing stickball or baseball with his big brothers. He fondly reminisced that when the little guys got up at bat, they were called “no outs” which meant the pitcher would pitch until the tyke got a hit.

“That is how I learned to hit a moving target, and I just don’t think this tee in the ground thing can teach you very much about baseball,” he added, asking not to repeat this to his son-in-law in the outfield.

Before the batter took a swing, typically a coach (father) reviewed how the batter should bat, taking a practice swing with the kid, standing behind, as they held the bat together. Great attention was given to correct positioning of feet, height of the swing, level swinging and proper placement of elbows, and the result was more often than not a loud clang as the batter whacked the tee. If this was the result, no matter where the ball went, the call was “foul” and the batter got to try again.

When one Dodger immediately clobbered the tee instead of the ball, a father called out, “You’re swinging too low, honey!” The height of the tee was immediately adjusted by an on-deck dad. At that moment, the senior statesman, aka the old-timer, was heard mumbling under his breath, “Just tell him to put his hands together and choke up. Keep it simple.”

When Ellie Bertolotti, 6, daughter of Paulo Bertolotti, grabbed her baseball glove, she parked herself at first base, ready to make the play. She was sporting pigtails and her bright pink leather baseball glove, complete with blue patent leather trim.

Little League has opened its doors to girls and redesigned the game to meet the needs of children who allegedly do not have enough hand-eye coordination at age 6 to get a hit. In part, baseball for the little ones has been restructured for the anxious parents as well. The upside is everyone had fun, and they even “took a knee” with coach Joe Bosch after the game to discuss the rules and have a doughnut or two.

Too much instruction can also make a player self-conscious and tight. As the anonymous old-timer said at the end of the game, “I like Yogi Berra. He said something like, ‘You can’t hit and think at the same time,’ and that goes for the little ones too.”

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