"I think we're playing the red team tonight..."
"No, Nofirst base is this way"
"Don't worry about keeping score..."
Photo courtesy of Kellie Goodman Shaffer
Members of the Lime Green team shake hands after a Hollidaysburg YMCA T-ball game.
"Make sure you get a Popsicle before you go home!"
Those are just a few of the directions overheard during a Hollidaysburg YMCA T-ball game.
The summer program, held Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings at the Y is a first introduction to baseball for more than 150 little boys and girls in Blair County.
With the parking lot filled with mini-vans, and the fields lined with folding chairs, this is beginner's sport at its best; though at first glance, the spectacle looks like total chaos. A myriad of brightly-colored, oversized T-shirts offers the only way to tell one team of pint-sized players from the next.
"They are really proud of their T-shirts and their teams," YMCA program coordinator Frank Kopriva said. "But it's really a family program. It's quality time with your kids and there's nothing more rewarding than seeing them improve."
As game time draws near, pony tails are straightened, tiny fingers stuffed into miniature mitts, and rosy cheeks slathered with sunscreen. With volunteer coaches scattered around the field, finally, it's time to play ball.
In this T-ball league, where players learn fundamentals in a "game" situation, every player takes the field to play defense. While on offense, each teammate bats every single inning.
With no balls or strikes, and no outs for that matter, there is no need for umpires, just the crew of patient coaches offering gentle instruction. They pitch to the "veteran" batters (aka, 5-or-6-year olds), help the younger ones hit off a tee, and generally serve as traffic cops by directing batters and base runners to run around the bases. Triumphantly, the little ball players jump on rather than slide into each bag.
As the one-hour contest progresses, it becomes clear that this chaos is not only completely organized, it is exceptionally well-executed, and that is no small undertaking. The program has been in existence for more than a decade, growing to two divisions for children ages 4 through 8. Ironically, this well-oiled machine is designed to take the stress and structure out of baseball, and remind us of the good ol' days of backyard pick-up games in neighborhood sand lots.
"It's just wonderful to see the parents have fun with their kids," Kopriva said. "They show up early to play catch, and it reminds kids that if they can find a backstop or a parking lot or a patch of grass, you can play some ball. You don't have to go to the major leagues."
The six-week, 12-game season ends without a champion, but with a full-league pot luck picnic.
They may not finish the season with an understanding of the infield fly rule, but they will know that when you hit the ball, you run to first base then second then third then home.
And even more importantly, Kopriva says they'll learn that baseball is a fun time with family friends that usually ends with high five's and ice cream.
Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at Kellie@BedfordCountyChamber.org. Her column appears on Tuesdays.