T-Ball begins, aka. Operation Early Bed Time

stretch

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.

swingatteeOnce 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.

Starting the day with some father-son golf

“You go get my club and ball. I’ll be at the golf course, okay dad,” said my three-year-old son, before darting without an answer toward the greens. He can’t contain his excitement. Finally it’s warm enough to hit the putt-putt course. And there’s still 15 free minutes before daycare starts.

What better way to start a day? Golf, grits and grins. A father-son breakfast, High Country style.

golfinmorn

We’re at what my boy refers to it as “the Pancake Store.” It’s a restaurant in Boone off Highway 105. He calls it the Pancake Store because that’s what he usually gets to eat, a pancake. Though when the mood hits he’s partial to a half order of biscuits and gravy. Gotta raise ’em right!

We don’t go often. Maybe one or two times a month. The tradition started with my daughter, now 5. Prior to her going to kindergarten – and when the boy hadn’t yet started daycare – it was just she and I who would occasionally nab some pancakes. On one of our first visits, the waitress brought my daughter a special treat – a Mickey Mouse pancake. On the house! I’ve been a faithful customer ever since.

There’s more than food. The Pancake Store has an adjoining miniature golf course, plus an arcade. There’s skeeball, basketball, shoot ’em ups, race car games and an air hockey table. And there’s all operational at 7. After breakfast during the winter this is the room we while away the minutes before day care (8:15 a.m. sharp). This past snow season the boy got pretty good with his air hockey defense. His shot selection needs some work, and he tends to clench his fingers on the rail. But give him a couple years and he’ll be a grizzled pro. In your face dad!

Today, of course, it’s all golf. The winter was a long one and he can’t wait to walk some greens again. I keep a Little Tykes golf club and a ball in the car for this very event. I retrieve both and meet the over-anxious toddler at his favorite hole. It’s basically a two-level course, with an upper level connected to a lower by three PVC pipes underground. Hit a ball into one of the top three holes up top and it pops out of one of the three holes on the lower level. It never gets old …. at least for him.

We laugh around the course for several minutes, with just the sounds of birds and traffic around us. The course doesn’t actually open till mid-day, because, really, who wants to play golf at 8 in the morning? So I like to think of it as a special time. There are not too many places a father and son can spend an early morning running around some miniature links before packing it in for the day’s school and work. This is one of those places. I love calling the High Country home.

A life of fish frys, celebrities and imaginary baseball

“This is why we moved here from Raleigh,” my friend Jennifer said, smiling at the busy atmosphere among the picnic tables surrounding us. “We want to be a part of something like this, a community like this. A down-home, friendly, community.”

Jennifer was sitting across from her husband, who was beside me. We were sharing a table with my family and some friends at the picnic shelter alongside the Mountaineer Ruritan Clubhouse. It was Fish Fry Friday, the first of the year.

fishfrydiaryMore than 450 people were served dinner that night. Some picked up their orders and left. Others stayed to eat at the clubhouse itself, which used to be a fire station. The three-truck garage area is the dinning room. It has more than a dozen white banquet tables aligned three rows deep from the open doors to the back wall.

It was the first summer-like Friday of the spring (mid 60s!), so the family and I opted for the picnic area to better enjoy the breeze. A baseball field spreads out between the shelter and the clubhouse, forming almost a triangle. A small creek bubbles along the outfield border. A patient young man is walking his dog among the shrubbery there. I say patient not to disparage the dog’s meanderings, but the regular line of children running up asking, “can I pet your doggie, please.”

My two kids – a 3-year-old boy and 5-year-old girl – haven’t seen the dog yet. They’re lost in the wonders of the infield. Scratching at the pitchers mound. Running to home. Kicking ruts in the sand. They’re getting dirty. But more importantly, they’re getting tired. (Early Friday bedtime are a blessing).

All this is going on behind me as Jennifer and I talk. I’m wearing my Ruritan apron and hat, but I may as well have a clipboard and pencil behind my ear. I’m recruiting! I just may have new members here!

Jennifer and her husband moved to the High Country last year, and had stopped by a Fry or two. They enjoyed losing themselves in a Rockwell-like experience. They began asking about the club. I was happy to add additional color.

The Mountaineer Ruritan Club is comprised of people who want to make a difference in our part of Watauga County. Among the members is a retired chief of police, a clerk of court, an active state trooper, school teachers, business managers and retirees. Once a month, from spring to fall, we gather to fry fish, cook hushpuppies, prepare meals and serve drinks, all for $8 a person. We do it to raise money to support the schools in our part of the county, as well as distributes funds to neighbors in need.

The Mountaineer Ruritan Club isn’t too different from dozens of peer groups or events in the High Country area. Another example is tonight. It’s the annual Celebrity Serve in Boone. Each year, local “celebrities” wait tables at various restaurants, with proceeds from the evening’s meals going to a specific local cause. This year the beneficiary group is OASIS (Opposing Abuse with Services, Information and Shelter).

Among the “celebrities” this year are the major of Boone, local law enforcement offciaisl, the Appalachian Rollergirls roller derby team, business people and the Appalachian State football and basketball coaches, with some of their players. It’s a big night, one of many throughout the year. And they’re all thanks to neighbors helping neighbors, the hallmark of any great community.

I give my best spiel to my new friends. They’re interested in learning more about my club. Applications are on their way! “This is why we moved here,” repeated Jennifer, adding, “Places like this are special. We want to become a part of it.”

They soon leave, as does my family and the other full bellies. I head back to the clubhouse as the members begin cleanup duty. About 30 minutes later I return to the picnic shelter. I need to tidy it up and empty the trash cans.

As I carry back two bags, I see some activity on the baseball field. A mom is standing at home plate, clutching an invisible ball. Her daughter, around nine years ago, is at home plate, an invisible bat in hand. They are alone.

The mom looks to the side, nods, and sends a fast one down the middle! Her daughter swings, and makes contact! She screams a giggle, then dashes toward first base. Her mom laughs with her. Out of sight, so do I.

This is Living the Dream in the High Country. This is special.

Swing into the season

I’ve been promising Big G a trip to an ASU baseball game for weeks. Tuesday there was finally a home game. (Snow forced a three-game series down to Hickory).

It was cold. REALLY cold. Probably right around freezing. We got there top of the 7th, toboggans and blankets in tow. There were maybe 30 other people there, a few fans of Columbia.

The game was free and, with so few fans, you could sit anywhere. We hit front row behind the catcher. And it didn’t take long for Gavin to start practicing his distract-o-chant. Given the small number of people there, he WAS noticed.

We last two innings before finally turned and said simply, “It’s cold. Let’s go home.” Prior to that no complaints. He was into the game. Though he did repeatedly ask, “Can we go play on the field now?”

ME: No, we can’t.

GAVIN: Why not?

ME: Cause ASU and another team is playing baseball right now. They need the whole field.

GAVIN: Can’t we play with them?

In 17 years, maybe.

Lap hog

Dare I put the laptop down for a bathroom break when, like Emeril, BAM!, someone jumps on it. She asks, “How do you type Disney Princess games?” or “How do you type Phineas and Ferb games?” or “How do you type Cinderella games? And NOT Cinderella dressup games. I want other games.” Sorry Gabby, there is no such thing.

Dance fever

Gabby’s Christmas Dance Show, which due to snow was held Feb. 4. It’s a gymnastics/dance class, and – at four and a half – she’s the youngest. The rest of the class is in kindergarten to second grade.