Home Education Magazine
May-June/97 - Columns
Talk About Learning - Earl Stevens
Time For Family Baseball
Spring is here and it is time once again for our support group to begin playing Thursday morning Family Baseball. This has become one of our most enduring gatherings because, for five months out of the year, it is our weekly community meeting place where we chat, share snacks, fly kites, meet friends, check out the bulletin board, and even play baseball. After the game the parking lot becomes the launch area for spontaneous excursions to the beach, fishing expeditions, and picnics.
We get to know each other better and become closer when we play together. People tend to let go of their reserve when they are running around the bases or chasing a bouncing ball. Our modified game is a wonderful choice for community play because practically everyone is familiar with baseball, and it is physically accessible to all ages and abilities. You need only a bat, a ball, a batting tee for the young and inexperienced, some carpet remnant bases, and an open field.
We start out fresh each week. I choose sides by randomly pointing and counting out ones and twos, making allowances for parents and children or for best friends who wish to be on the same team. After we become the ones against the twos we might make a couple of trades to even up the sides. I ask another parent or an older kid to "manage" the opposing team so that someone is helping keep track of things. We then flip a coin to see who bats first, and the game begins.
Even a "reduced injury factor" baseball is far too dangerous, so we use the cloth-covered "Incrediball." It may look like a lump of dirt after one inning, but it lasts forever. For obvious reasons players must keep well away from swinging (and possibly flying) bats. This includes the catcher, who should be far enough behind the batter to let the ball bounce at least once.
As batters come to the plate they may choose to swing at slow, underhand pitches or they may use a batting tee. Pitchers try to get the ball over the plate to encourage beginning hitters and because it is more fun for everybody when the ball is constantly in play. The inning is usually over when everyone has had a turn at bat and there are three outs. Batters can swing as many times as they like until they hit the ball. Whether from bad batting or bad pitching, those who can't hit a pitched ball after about six throws are asked to use a batting tee in order to keep the game going. If too many fielders are lost to heat and boredom there is no game.
Sometimes 30 or more kids and adults show up to play, so we don't blink at having 15 players on a side. There may be only one or two long innings but everybody gets to bat, and there are more people to socialize with in the outfield. At other times, on a very hot or drizzly day, only a few players will show up, so we go to our "half field rules," under which the ball must be hit to the left of the pitcher's mound. Players who can easily hit the ball over the fence are encouraged to try for inside the park homers.
Because sides are chosen randomly each week there are no permanent teams and no ongoing rivalry. We tend to keep score while playing because it is more fun, but it never seems to matter very much when the game is over. Differing opinions about whether a player is safe or out are settled by "do-overs." Late arrivals join the game in progress, and people leave when they've had enough. When one side gets thinner than the other I ask for a couple of volunteers to switch sides and help out the other team.
By unspoken agreement we routinely allow little kids to be safe on first base by not being in a hurry to get the ball there before they arrive. We love the big grins, and we don't think this small mercy damages their character. But there is a limit to how easy a game can be before it becomes pointless to get any better at it, and that is why after first base they are on their own. This game is truly for all ages. A very little kid might hit the ball off the tee, forget about first base and run to third or to his mom instead. Then the next player might connect with just the right pitch and hit a ball over the fence for the first time ever. We love it all.
I think it is easier for one or two parents to organize and advertise family baseball in a newsletter or bulletin board and by word of mouth than for the entire support group to hash out all the details and to delegate responsibility for them. All it takes is somebody who cares about the game and is willing to lug the equipment to the field once a week. I recently suggested to an inquiring parent that the underlying guidelines for anyone organizing this kind of baseball game might be as follows: Keep the game moving; allow room for silliness; think safety; experiment with the rules; model respectful behavior; remember that you are the host.
Some boys and girls live to play this game. They talk about it all week, and they show up on Thursday morning looking as though nothing will ever make them happier than to be playing baseball with us on this beautiful summer day. We have watched many of them grow up over the years, from little kids smiling at first base to young men and women who still come to play and to help other little kids learn the game. Visitors who have never seen kids of all ages playing happily together gaze with wonder at our game in progress and remark to me afterwards that they were moved by it. I know how that feels; it is what brings me back for another season.
© 1997 Earl Stevens
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