Can't anybody here play this game?

Here’s a recipe for frugal fun: Go watch some “coach-pitch” Little League. Go even if you don’t have any kids. And go to the bathroom before you leave for the game, or you will almost certainly wet yourself laughing.

Coach-pitch is like an extended bloopers reel on YouTube, minus the annoying music and captions. Think “The Keystone Kops,” only shorter, and with bats instead of billy clubs:

  • Runners piling up two or three deep on third base as coaches scream, “Go back! Go back!” and the third baseman tries to figure out which one to tag.
  • A shortstop singing a little song to herself, complete with hip-twitches, as a series of line drives sails past.
  • The right fielder and center fielder who played catch during the game.
  • A runner dashing almost off the field to avoid being tagged. A few steps more and he’d have been in the bleachers.
  • A catcher, all but blinded by an oversized protective mask, turning around and around in a futile search for a loose pitch that was practically under his instep.
  • Another catcher adjusting his protective cup. From inside his pants.
  • Outfielders waiting patiently for hits to roll all the way to them. Then again, it’s hard to show much hustle when the baseball glove is bigger than your head.

 

“It won’t be nearly as much fun when they get older and actually learn how to play,” my niece remarked.

After watching three of her son’s games here at the Moose Field (yes, that is its name) in Anchorage, I have to agree.

Take them out

America’s pastime is popular in Anchorage, which hosts two summer collegiate teams in the Alaska Baseball League plus youth and adult recreational leagues.

But there’s not a whole lot of preseason practice time. There was still snow on the field at the end of April, for heaven’s sake. Thus it’s not surprising that my great-nephew and his teammates are a little fuzzy on the finer points.

“Coach-pitch” is just what it sounds like: A coach pitches, up to eight throws per player. Each kid gets one at-bat per inning. Games last 75 minutes.

Some of the children show promise. Most just show up. But they all have fun.

Out in the bleachers, civility is codified: Parents must sign contracts promising not to act like assholes at the games. Okay, the contracts don’t actually say that. But we all know what the contracts mean: No derision, no screams, no threats, no foul language, no gunplay.

Shared gloves, no umpires

When I was young, a bunch of neighborhood kids would come to our house because we had a huge, flat back yard. Among us we had just a couple of bats and a few gloves, but we played for hours.

Rosters varied depending on who showed up. Close plays were determined by who could scream his case the loudest. Score was kept, kind of.

Only two things could suspend the games: darkness, or someone’s hitting a home run out into “the weeds,” a broomstraw field behind our yard. We’d do what cops now call a grid search, trying to figure out where the ball – we only ever had one at a time – might have landed.

And later that night, at least one of us would need to have a tick removed. Good times!

Maybe kids in rural areas still stage informal games like that. I’d bet they’re less frequent, though, thanks to organized summer sports (especially soccer).

Additionally, the freedom we knew would today be considered child neglect. Parents really did say, “Be home before dark” and then have no clue where their kids were. They were just Outside.

(Fun fact: Alaskans call every place that isn’t Alaska “Outside.” It gets the upper case even in newspapers.)

Everyone gets a chance

Now we have organized leagues, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The kids get decent equipment and a real field. Everyone gets a chance to play; children who aren’t naturally talented don’t get hooted off the field. (Remember, too, that Little League used to be for boys only. That really irritated me.)

Good sportsmanship is the rule, whereas I remember jeers and hostility at my brother’s Little League games. Quite a bit of that nastiness came from some scary, scary parents, which makes me glad there’s a no-asshole contract here at Moose Field.

Since most onlookers cheer for both sides, kids get the applause of relatives and strangers alike as they struggle to throw the ball, catch the ball or hit the ball. Or to adjust themselves.

Seriously: You really want to hit the bathroom before you hit the bleachers.

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