I didn’t know where I was and had most likely urinated in my pants, but I was happy to be on that small field on Haddon Street. I was 5 years old and was playing tee ball, or more accurately, I was watching other children NOT play tee ball. They swung and swung and swung, and when they finally connected, the ball would soar, maybe, five feet. My teammates would all run to the ball and I would stay in my position in right field. Didn’t they understand positions?
This was one of the memories that popped into my head as I drove past my old little league fields. I had just dropped off my wife off at work and I had the whole day to myself. I chose some mornings as Dias de Nostalgia and cruised around the back streets of my memories. One morning I decided to revisit the baseball diamonds of my youth – the Olney Midget Teen League, or OMTL.
I parked on Haddon Street and got out. I locked the doors. Then I locked the doors again. It was my wife’s car and Olney, while not the most dangerous neighborhood in Philadelphia, was certainly not the safest. After locking my car for a third time, I strode past the fields. The three baseball fields, combined with a batting cage and a rundown clubhouse, made up the ballpark where I spent so much time as a child. As a five year old, I had begun my historic career on the smallest of the three fields, and that is where I lingered longest this morning.
If baseball is America’s favorite pastime, then tee ball is America’s cutest conditioning ground. Let’s put a 3-foot metal bat in the hands of a 4-foot tall five year old and have him swing it around and around until he hits a compact leather ball. But before that, let’s put nine or more children in an enclosed area with said batter. And lets afford those without a bat no protection other than an oversized and overweight leather glove. This is a great game.
My recollection of the years on that diamond are few, but I do remember how terrible I was. Not athletically – athletically I was like a young Sandy Koufax. No, I was terrible behaviorally. Tell an overactive child to stand in a far-off field while some no-name bum continually misses the baseball with his bat… despite that fact it WASN’T MOVING. Even at such a young age, I couldn’t stand the ineptitude of my fellow man. How was it that they could be so incompetent? It was infuriating. But alas, my memories of that time were still pleasant. I cannot complain about my experience in OMTL’s tee ball farm system. I can, however, speak on the ‘evil’ution and corruption of the current tee ball system.
About two years back I went to see my little cousin play tee ball at a field in Fairmount Park near the Art Museum. The same principles and strategies were being utilized as I had remembered except for one huge detail – there were much more people on the field. The little ballplayers had apparently gone out and each gotten a butler of some sort because there were fully sized human beings standing behind each of them. It was disastrous.
After four misses and a thrown bat that took out the kneecap of the third base coach, a manservant would come up behind the batting child and help him hit the ball. Then the manservant would begin shoveling the small boy down the base path until both were safely standing on 1st base. While this aggressive behavior occurred, the butlers who’d been spread across the field would spring into action, nudging their small, distracted masters towards the rolling sphere. The ball would inevitably return to the area where it all started, but not before a good five throws in miscellaneous directions.
I for one thought the whole debacle a bit trite, and longed for a return to simpler times when the parents would sit calmly on the bleachers beside the diamond and watch in unadulterated joy as the on-field shenanigans ensued. I propose we don’t allow parents on the field at all. Children have to learn for themselves. And on top of that, we should televise the whole thing.
How amazing would it be, if the next time you flip past ESPN on the television, you got to witness ten confused minuscule children moving around a shape they probably couldn’t identify. I would be utterly entertained to see:
- five children running towards a small ball rolling on the ground
- two children crying
- one child running haphazardly in an undetermined direction while swinging a metal baton
- one child screaming, running in the opposite direction of the one with the metal baton
- and one seated crisscross applesauce on the ground simultaneously picking his nose while eating grass.
Doesn’t everyone want to see that? I know I do. But for now, let’s just all enjoy how cute I was.