My two kids are engaged in their first season of Kinder T-Ball, overseen by the Blowing Rock Park and Recreation Department. As with its Kinder Soccer and Kinder Basketball programs, T-Ball is open to children 3 to 5. That’s right, 3 to 5, the ages when kids have attention spans shorter than they are. But it’s well worth it, but not for what it does for the kids. Oh no. It’s what it does for the parents.
On paper it’s called Kinder T-Ball. I call it, Operation: Early Bed Time. Wear them busy bodies out!
Practices are held at Blowing Rock Elementary School on its picturesque baseball field. There’s three coaches, each paid staff with Blowing Rock Parks and Rec. Practice begins at 6:30 sharp (There’s an earlier practice at 5:30) with the coaching calling the kids home. About 16 tykes, some with baseball jerseys, some wearing cleats and all with gloves, head onto the field.
Practice officially begins with some stretching at midfield. Imagine a bunch of youngsters in a near circle all attempting to touch their toes, do sidebends, and jog in place. There’s no high styles but plenty of wide smiles. Warming up is fun! After two quick attempts to get rid of any remaining wiggles – shake like crazy till ya can’t shake no more – it’s time to get to business. First up – educational laps.
The kids gather at home plate, and the coaches quiz them on the bases. “This is home, where you bat. When you hit the ball you run to first base down there. Then you run from there to second. And then to third. And then back home. Go that? Let’s practice where we go.” Thus begins a single-file parade around the infield, with stops at each base to emphasize, “This is first base. Over there is second base, the next one you run to.” And so on.
Once the parade route is completed, each kid is assigned the task of repeating the loop, only this time no walking. Run those bases! And the kids do, all at different speeds and different styles: the head-down, determined dash; the carefree, arms swinging wildly run; and the run, jump, run more, jump, hop move. When they finish the first lap, they’re told to run it again. And again. At least three times. Go as fast as you can! (Like I said, Operation: Early Bed Time).
After the infield revolutions, the real teaching begins. Each coach selects five or six kids. They then split off into skill drills, which vary from practice. One group will stay at home plate and take swings at the T. Another will stand in a straight line at first base and work on catching the slowest grounders ever rolled. Over in the shortstop zone they’re tossing balls overhanded through a hula hoop held aloft by a coach. After about seven or eight minutes, the groups switch. The pace is key. Keeping em moving. Keep em interested. Keep the kids having fun.
Another drill involves all three groups interacting. One group hits from the T, while another on the pitcher’s mound runs to get the ball. They then toss it to a player at first base. It’s clunky, but educational. Baseball has a rhythm, and the kids are getting a hint of its beat.
Practice comes to an end with every parent’s favorite task – more running. It’s deceptively called Home Run Derby. Each kid gets one more swing at the ball on T, then takes off one more time around the bases. Once each player has a lap, it’s snack time. Pudding cups and water. They’ve earned it, just on the running alone. They’ve also been introduced to the very basics of the national pasttime. The very basics. They’ve also met new friends and got some chocolate to boot. Plus, for me, and this can’t be stressed enough, both kids were easily asleep by 9 p.m. Home run!
I’ve shared the practice details with a friend who lives down the mountain in a big city. He too has registered his young daughter for a parks and rec team. But he envies my experience. While our team has a great coach to player ratio of 1:6, my friend’s daughter is one of 20 kids with one coach, a parent volunteer. He’s jealous of the attention we get, and that’s without even seeing just how gorgeous is the playing field. I gotta spare him some pain.
Kinder T-Ball is Blowing Rock is just another reason among many I love calling the High Country home.