Last month I went to an all-day umpiring workshop, and today was the Little League Opening Day parade. As a side-effect, I’m feeling rather culturally well-rooted, not to mention erudite: two strikes on the batter, a foul-tip bounces off the catcher’s mask into the air, the third basemen charges in and catches it; is the batter out? Or... runners on first and second, pop fly to third, infield-fly rule called, the ball bounces off the third baseman’s glove through foul territory into the dugout, what happens? Then there’s the crash and howl of the bagpipe band as hundreds of bright-clad children march onto the immaculate infield grass... Opening Day!
The kid’s turning five just in time to get him onto the bottom rung of the Great Baseball Machine, and when I say Great I mean it. In Central Vancouver alone (minus the East Side, the West Side, or any suburbs) we have Little Mountain Baseball, with 400 kids in 38 teams. (If the picture looks lousy to you, it’s because it’s lousy, I stupidly left the camera at ISO 400 the pix were grainy like toast, sigh.)
The number of people committed to this, and their dedication, is heart-warming. There were three guys leading the umpiring workshop, and they’d all been to one or two professional umpiring schools, and they just dropped by because they like doing it (I was there because if you want your kid to play, you gotta volunteer for something, and I used to ump for beer money when I was in college). My kid’s team coach has been to a few professionally-run coaching clinics, and in the first practice made notable progress on teaching him to catch a ball; the kid’s approach to date has been along the lines of duck-and-cover. But he’s got a wicked arm for a nearly-five-year-old, so who knows?
History · I once caught a no-hitter in industrial-league ball; mind you, this was the Beirut Softball League, and the pitcher was a Lebanese lifeguard who could barely speak English but had a wicked rising fastball that broke inside on righties. In that no-hitter game, he put three runners on base by hitting them, which was OK because by the late innings the righties were flinching and the lefties were lunging. The Mediterranean was just across the street from right field.
Another April day a few years back at Shea Stadium, I was really hung over at a Saturday-afternoon Mets game because I’d been up till five or so at a George Clinton/P-Funk show that started well after midnight. The early-season crowd was thin, and mid-game I moved to a nice seat in the first deck right behind the plate. Shortly after, the seats around me were filled by the burly, hairy, chain-clad members of one of the no doubt many Gay Construction Workers’ Mets Fan Clubs. When in the late innings a Met hit a game-changing liner off the left-field wall, we all leapt to our feet and the muscular pierced studded six-foot-six guy next to me wanted to high-five, something I’d never done at that point in my life, and it really hurt, and then I couldn’t stop snickering at the ridiculousness of everything. We got to talking and he turned out to be an actuary at a property-insurance company.
Today · At the other end of the baseball spectrum, opening-day ceremonies in Vancouver, the kids all got their pictures taken, and then, to the sounds of a pipe band, most of the 400 marched in and lined up around the basepaths, the Brownian motion of the little Tee-ballers near first fading to the dead seriousness of the twelve-year-olds around by third. The combination of the bright uniforms, young faces, and (really rather good) pipe-skirling had me grinning from ear to ear. Mind you, since this is Vancouver, a good half of the kids had skin-tones that made the bagpipe connection dubious at best.
We had speeches from a local TV talking-head (he’s got kids in the league) and minor-league ballplayers, we sang the National Anthem, we ate hot dogs.
Tomorrow’s the first game; in entry-level tee-ball, there are no umpires and score is not kept. But, The Game Is The Thing.