The first pitch of the Major League Baseball 2023 season will be thrown out at 1:05 p.m. ET on Thursday, March 30. At that very moment there will be the slightest shift of the earth’s axis, thereby offering balance, meaning and alignment of a universe on the cusp of madness. For those who find solace in a game played on a (mostly) grassy field, that sense of awe and wonder will last until the last out of the World Series sometime in October.
Then is the onset of the winter of our discontent.
During much of those nearly eight months of America’s pastime, another sport will take place on sandlots and ball fields across the country every Saturday morning. Based loosely on a vague concept of baseball, tee-ball was created sometime in the 1950s by any number of people claiming credit. It was meant to introduce 4- to 7-year-olds to the fundamentals of baseball, thereby preparing them for a lifetime of athletic achievement and a possible career in the Bigs.
Tee-ball is frequently mentioned by professional ballplayers and credited with providing that first steppingstone to HOF immortality.
Actually, that’s not true. Most ballplayers would prefer not to recall the personal embarrassment of participating in an activity that is as humiliating to the participants as it is entertaining to the audiences. Seriously. Even people without children in the game seek out opportunities to attend such festivities, although we can never be too sure that’s why. Nothing delivers laughs at a kid’s expense better than tee-ball—from the crack of a bat that sends the ball dribbling seven inches away from home plate to the awkward cry of “what do I do now?”
With fans of each team screaming directions to the kids, the base runner makes it to the right field foul pole while the opponents toss the ball around the infield with no specific design or purpose. At the end of this three-and-a-half minute exhibition of ineptitude, the play ends with tears and jeers.
The kids don’t seem to care, but the parents are walking that thin line that separates pride and embarrassment. All is right with the world, especially in left field where the entire outfield, the pitcher (who has no official duties in tee-ball) and the shortstop have gathered to perform cartwheels and pick dandelions.
While not quite qualifying as an actual sport, it is a game whose rules are tossed to the wind at the opening shout of “Play Ball!” by an umpire whose role is suspect.
Now that everybody gets to play the game without gender considerations, I fear tee-ball might not be so entertaining.
My kids played on gender-specific teams, i.e., boys and girls. The port-a-potty wasn’t, however. Parents of kids born in the 1980s didn’t care about those things back then. The right-wing evangelical movement was restricted to a few counties in the Deep South where paid actors faked illnesses to raise money for whoever owned the revivalist tent. In California and Texas, there were religious movements based on psychedelics or automatic weapons. As you might well imagine, it was the ones with the guns who wanted separate bathrooms.
I contend that 5-year-old girls tee-ball is the greatest spectator sport on the planet. I even have a couple of cockamamie theories about why that might be.
From the get-go girls have little exposure to baseball. The answer from a little girl about watching a game with Dad on television is the same as Dad’s answer might be to attend a tea party with a pair of stuffed animals. For boys, the invite to watch a game on television with Dad beats doing yard work with Dad; fathers will gleefully enjoy any activities with their sons because those activities typically employ knives, fire, and pictures of Richard Nixon.
If it’s true that “girls just wanna have fun” (with their dads), I’d suggest low-grade explosives.
Exposure to baseball for boys usually begins in their having their first mitt while still in the crib. This early indoctrination (the unforgettable, permeating smell of neat’s-foot oil) helps the fathers live out pro careers that eluded them through their sons. This rarely works out.
The first mitts given to girls are those that were used in high school by their fathers. They’re usually the same size as their torsos and need two hands to lift. If they lift them too high over their heads, the weight will knock them over backwards.
“Dat’s funny,” as the comics say.
Although girls will grow up to be women who don’t lack any particular sense of direction, as five-year-olds they haven’t a clue. That infield dribbler will inspire them to run anywhere but first base—third is the most popular, followed by a quick jaunt to the pitcher’s mound for a hug from their best friend: the opposing pitcher.
It’s difficult to imagine why hitting a teed-up ball is so difficult. There it is: a stationary object positioned just above the waistline. After several whiffs over the top and a few thwacks at the tee itself, the young player is finally able send the ball foul. That doesn’t stop the batter from becoming a runner, unless she is physically stopped by a coach who intercepts and carries her back to the batter’s box.
I was never too involved in tee-ball. I preferred to sit somewhere along the first-base line in a folding chair. Geri, of course, would join me along with most of our neighborhood friends. We’d drink a un-oaked Chardonnay and munch on crisp apple slices dipped in baked brie with plums.
For eight or nine Saturdays in a row, we were in baseball heaven. Sorta.
Photo illustration by Courtney A. Liska
Baked Brie with Plums
1 Tbs. Butter
2 Tbs. Brown Sugar
2 plums, pitted
1 Tbs. orange juice
1/2 tsp fresh rosemary, chopped
15 oz. brie
Heat oven to 400 degrees.
Thinly slice the plums.
Melt butter in small pan and add sugar, plums, and orange juice. Cook and stir until sugar melts and juice begins to thicken, about 10 minutes.
Add rosemary and a pinch of salt.
Remove from heat and let cool 5 minutes.
Slice rind of one side of brie and place cut side up on an oven-safe plate or platter.
Arrange plums and juices on top of Brie and bake for 10 – 15 minutes.
Serve with sliced apples or toast.