It's baseball season! I know this because my 5-year-old grandson Luke is playing his first season ever.
The kids look like true professionals out there on the field, dressed in their still-clean green-and-white uniforms, their names embroidered on the back in giant letters. The players may be small and inexperienced, but they're awfully cute in those outfits.
Luke's team is called the Sand Gnats. Wait -- Sand Gnats? How is a name like that supposed to strike terror in the hearts of the other teams? I could see it if the teams were lying on the beach and became infested with those little buggers. But at most, aren't sand gnats just mildly irritating? Oh well. When the Gnats are up against teams like the Mud Cats, the Sea Dogs, the River Cats, and the Muck Dogs, not to mention the Bats, the Bulls and the Raptors, maybe they'll get under their opponents' skin a little.
The game I witnessed was entertaining from start to finish. After the pint-size players warmed up by throwing balls randomly around the field (and watching them fly by, not realizing they were also supposed to catch them), it was finally game time.
The four coach/dads gathered the kids in a huddle for a pep talk, although I can't imagine what they said to motivate their players -- maybe things like "Clean their clocks!" "No survivors!" or "Take 'em down!" Or something more appropriate for 5-year-olds, such as "Play nice!" "Take turns!" and "Share!"
The kids grabbed their mitts and hats and headed for the field, where they stood around looking a little dazed and confused. The coaches reminded them to "stay on your feet" (they tend to lie down on the field between exciting plays) and "avoid dog piles" (they sometimes fight over who's gets to have the ball).
But mostly they just played catch with their own mitts, threw clumps of freshly mowed grass, did jumping jacks pulled their hats down over their eyes, waved to their grandparents, and occasionally knocked on their "cups." Yes, "cups" -- at 5 years old.
Meanwhile the other team lined up to bat. The rules are a little different from, say, pro ball. These players get to swing at the ball until they hit it, which can take some time. No matter what happens, the players are never out. And the teams don't keep score, so every game is a "tie." Every kid gets up to bat every inning, every game is three innings and every player is cheered by the coaches as if he or she is MVP.
When the Gnats finally got up to bat, their coaches did their best to figure out each kid's dominant hand, then ducked just in time to avoid being hit in the head by a wild bat. When it was Luke's turn, he hit the ball and, after a moment of deer-in-the-headlights confusion, realized it was time to run (more like saunter) to first base.
Finally he arrived at home plate to a cheering crowd (mainly grandma), then broke into a smile and waved before returning to his spot on his inverted bucket. He was obviously proud of himself for being a part of a newly budding team: The Sand Gnats.
And at 5 years old, isn't that the point?
Contact Penny Warner at www.pennywarner.com.