baseball huddle

Field of day dreams

February 28, 2022

   Major League Baseball may not be able to figure out how to divide billions into millions and so on, but baseball remains alive and well in this land of the home and the brave. You just have to know where to look for it. And we found it in the Mission Viejo Girls Softball League.

   Make no mistake, it takes a leap of some magnitude to link the game of Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio and Mantle to that played by a consortium of six-year-old girls for whom bats, balls, helmets, cleats and uniforms are but extensions of the batons, balloons, bonnets and glass slippers of a Cinderella costume ball dressup.

   Positions are dutifully assigned and maintained with rigid discipline. In the unlikely event that a ball is struck toward one of those tightly held positions, the player will simply watch it roll past, as if the game had changed from baseball to keep away. When the ball is eventually retrieved like an egg in an Easter egg hunt, it is generally thrown to any base other than the one the hitter happens to be running to. (Runners reaching first base safely – and they all do – tend to hop over the base rather than touch it, perhaps thinking it is a hurdle to be conquered, rather than the goal of a safe arrival.

   The position of catcher (a term of pure aspiration, make no mistake) seems to be one the players try their best to avoid being assigned. The mask, chest protector and shin guards combine to render the player virtually immobile, making the player feel they’ve been put in time out.

The most successful batters are the ones that approach the skill of hitting as if the ball were their annoying baby brother

   Hitting is more art than science, with both terms being stretched to the limit of their meaning. The most successful batters are the ones that approach the skill of hitting as if the ball were their annoying baby brother.

   Innings proceed, not by the recording of outs (during the entire six or sixteen innings of the game, only one legitimate out was recorded) but by a set number of plate appearances. The final batter of the inning clears the bases of teammates, who’d been otherwise engaged by the fact that the dirt infield had come to more resemble a sandbox. Runners advance to home plate, where the catcher stands stoically in place as the Runners trot past. It’s only late in the game, when the concept of tagging has caught on, that the game again morphs into another session of keep away.

      There is a team walk by at the conclusion of the game, with the players lining up as if participating in a school fire drill. They walk past each other, and then proceed quietly back to their own dugout, the concept of friendly competition and good sportsmanship still eluding one and all.

   Pete Rose once said that he’d run through Hell in a gasoline suit just to play baseball. Our girls are playing it for goldfish crackers, gummy worms and a donut.

   As I post this, Major League Baseball has still not resolved their differences. Watching these six-year old girls lugging their equipment bags filled with bats, helmets, balls and Barbie accessory kits, gives one pause to consider a game that can still be enjoyed by players blissfully unaware that baseball remains an experience where “people will come for reasons they can’t even fathom.”

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