Drive by Altoona's Mansion or Fairview Park on a summer morning, and you'll see a flurry of fun: T-ball.
More than 100 children, ages 5-8, are participating in the Central Blair Recreation Commission's T-ball and instructional baseball programs.
Dan Smith, who has been overseeing the project since 1985, says, "A lot of these kids have never played before, and this might be the only time they are exposed to any kind of sport."
Even the most hard-core of fans must admit that baseball, by nature, can be a little boring. Now imagine trying to keep a couple dozen 5-year-olds interested and engaged during batting practice when none of the players have really quite grasped the concept of hitting, throwing or fielding.
Michael Weston has been coaching for more than a decade. He knows it's what you don't see on this diamond that makes the T-ball program so special: no strikeouts, score, or losers.
"I wish there were more programs like this," he said. "It's laid-back, there's no pressure. It's encouraging for the children, and there's no individual coach trying to win. It's all about the children learning and enjoying the game."
When the program begins, outfielders may be more interested in a passing butterfly than a flyball, and base-runners can become easily confused trying to find their way to first. Coaches stick to the grass for practice; playing on an actual sandlot is too tempting for aspiring sandcastle builders. But as the summer weeks pass, the young players improve in ability and understanding.
"It's interesting just to watch them from the first week to the last week, learning to run the bases," said Smith. "You can see them get physically better."
Even more important than the fundamentals is the feeling of accomplishment from mastering baseball's basics.
That revelation is why Weston coaches: "'Mommy, look what I did,'" he said, "It's watching them enjoy being part of a team, building their self esteem, and making them feel good about themselves."
Smith and Weston have watched many of their players go on to the high school ranks and beyond, but that really isn't the point of this non-competitive program.
On this field, success is not measured in ERA or RBI; it's exemplified by toothless smiles and high-fives.
There are no MVP awards or Golden Glove honors, just the pride of taking home your very first team jersey.
On this diamond, there are no multi-million dollar contracts: the only negotiation is where to stop for ice cream on the way home.
Kellie Goodman can be reached at email@example.com. Her column appears every Tuesday.