Winning moments at kid baseball games

May 27, 1999|By Kevin Cowherd

IT'S A SATURDAY afternoon and the air has the same breezy feel as an attic in July, and I am standing alongside a dusty ballfield in the middle of Nowheresville.

Somewhere, hamburgers and hot dogs sizzle merrily on the grill and people tear lustily into buttery ears of sweet corn. Somewhere, other adults splash in crystal-clear pools and hoist frozen gin and tonics as laughter rings out.

Somewhere, tanned and rested foursomes traverse lush fairways, and the THWOCK! of a Titleist off the tee mixes with the excited shouts of someone rainbowing a 6-iron onto the green from 160 yards or holing a 35-foot putt.

But not here.

And, not me, brother.

My kid plays travel baseball.

Here is what I do every weekend: I go to Pikesville or Overlea or Carroll Manor, or I go somewhere down Liberty Road, or up Liberty Road, and watch kids play baseball.

I go to Fullerton or Towson or Elkridge to watch them. I go to Gardenville to watch them.

Look, I don't even know where Gardenville is. But I've been there, baby. Oh, yeah. I've been there

In between watching your kid have the time of his life and watching the miles pile up on your odometer, you learn these eternal truths about travel baseball:

Daniel Boone couldn't find most of the fields your kid will be playing on. You'll become hopelessly lost driving to at least half the games.

If the printed directions handed out by the league indicate the field is 20 minutes away, figure on at least 40.

If you get your kid to a game on time, they should throw a parade for you.

If it's 8 in the morning and you and your kid have arrived at the field and you're dying for a cup of coffee and a bagel, there will be nowhere, within a 10-mile radius, to purchase these items.

If, on the other hand, you just consumed a hearty breakfast, there will be a huge urn of fresh coffee and a fully stocked concession stand, complete with a dazzling assortment of muffins, bagels, etc. and staffed by an army of cheerful and efficient volunteers, 30 feet from the field.

If you arrive at the site of a game and there are three fields and you don't know which field is yours, I do.

Your field will be the one farthest from the parking lot.

If you arrive at a tournament site and there are six immaculately manicured diamonds, and behind them one overgrown, bumpy cow pasture with a rusted backstop next to a mosquito-ridden creek and sludge dump, your field will be the one next to the mosquito-ridden creek and sludge dump.

If you have an important affair to attend immediately after the game and are hoping for a quick six innings, the game will take three hours, minimum, to complete.

If you have absolutely nothing planned except wheelbarrowing a mountain of mulch from your driveway to the flower beds, the game will be played in a brisk 75 minutes.

If it's your wedding anniversary and you and your wife are going out to dinner immediately after the game, the game will take six hours.

There is no agony like watching your kid pitch.

For this reason, there should be a bar set up alongside every diamond. And when a kid pitches, his parents should be able to belly up to the rail and tell the bartender: "A double of whatever you got, pal."

My buddy Rob Kasper has it exactly right: When your kid's pitching, you want to somehow shout advice and leave him the hell alone at the same time.

But mostly, you want something wet and 80-proof.

OK, close your eyes for a moment. Now imagine the Orioles and Yankees are locked in a tight game in the late innings.

Suddenly Cal Ripken runs in from his position at third base and motions frantically for manager Ray Miller to join him.

Miller pops out of the dugout. The two confer in the middle of the field, with Ripken squirming uncontrollably.

Now imagine Ray Miller turning to the umpire and announcing: "He has to go to the bathroom."

Guess what? Happens all the time in travel baseball -- at least in the 7-and-8-year-old division.

Just proves that old baseball axiom: When you gotta go, you gotta go.

If you look at the outfielders in a typical 7-8-year olds travel game and find even one paying attention to what's happening on the field, it's a minor miracle.

This is because, if you're an outfielder, you have a better chance of seeing an intergalactic starship touch down behind you than you do of seeing a fly ball hit your way.

Personally, I'd be worried about any little kid in the outfield whose attention never wandered.

If I saw a kid that focused, I'd be thinking: "There goes the next Charles Manson."

Only youth baseball provides wonderful moments like this: One of our coaches, Gary, tells the story about a kid he once had on his high school JV team.

The kid was leading off first base, and every time the pitcher threw over, the kid would dive back to the bag. I mean literally dive back.

He'd put his feet together, hold his hands out in front of him, and dive back like he was Greg Louganis on the 3-meter board.

Suddenly, the next time Gary looked at him, the kid was standing on first with his uniform pants around his ankles, pulling at his boxer underpants.

When Gary, stunned, finally regained the capacity to speak, he asked the kid what the heck he was doing.

"Just getting the dirt out of my underwear, coach," the kid said.

You gotta love this game.

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