COLUMN: Stop and smell the corn dogs!

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I drove by our community ballpark the other day and saw that the All-Star baseball games were well underway. It’s hard to believe that the Little League baseball season has already come and gone. Has it already been two months since Opening Day? It seemed like I just saw what seemed to be thousands of parents and grandparents crowded around the baseball diamonds to encourage their future major league players. Please don’t question me – I’m sure that most parents at the ballpark will tell you their child is going to make it to the big leagues – Triple A at the very least.

I believe that all ballparks have one thing in common: the bigger the field is, the more serious the game becomes. That’s why my favorite game is the one with the smallest field: T-ball. Hands down, it’s the best game to watch in the world – other than bikini beach volleyball, of course.

I like it because most kids don’t even know the rules, nor do they care. It’s wonderful, organized chaos with colorful uniforms and imitation leather gloves. The coaches try their best to coach, but the parents, most of whom know nothing about baseball, are screaming instructions at their kids like they’re managing the Yankees in the World Series.

“Run, Jacob, run!”

“No, no! Go back, Jacob, go back!”

“Keep your foot on the base.”

“Touch him with the ball!”

I don’t think you hear comments like that in the major leagues. And you certainly won’t hear:

“Pay attention!”

“Put your hat back on!”

“Pull up your pants!”

“Quit throwing rocks!”

“Do you have to potty?”

I’ve seen an umpire stop a game because several players from both teams had to go to the bathroom. Forget T-ball, that was Pee-ball.

When you watch a T-ball game, you’ll quickly notice that there are about two or three kids on each team who understand what’s going on. The rest of them would probably rather be home watching Peppa Pig, especially if they’re playing in the outfield.

All three of my boys began their T-ball careers in the outfield, specifically right field. The old saying “He was out in left field” would be more accurate if it was, “He was out in right field.” For those of you not well versed in this culture, right field is T-ball purgatory. You play right field because balls are rarely hit in that direction, making it the perfect place for players who are too young, or uninterested in the game. But playing right field is as boring as a lecture on microeconomics. As a result, you can see kids entertaining themselves by looking for bugs, throwing dirt and, in extreme cases, lying on the ground with their glove over their faces. My youngest son Brad had a unique habit of counting all the people in the bleachers, which was quite a feat because he could only count to 10.

On the rare occasion when a ball is hit into right field, the right fielder never makes the play alone. He will almost always get help from the first baseman, second baseman, center fielder and probably the left fielder. They usually end up in a scrum, fighting over the ball like dogs over hamburger meat. When one of them finally comes up with it, the runner is rounding third.

I videotaped Brad’s first T-ball game years ago and watched it the other day. It’s amazing how totally uninterested he was. That’s because the only reason he was “playing” was because his friends were out there. He undoubtedly got more enjoyment running around the ballpark than he did playing in right purgatory. So, when he was in the game, he often carried his outfield shenanigans to the infield, sometimes bringing play to a complete halt. He particularly enjoyed harassing his first- and second-base teammates. He would duck walk between the bases, turn his hat backwards and get right in their faces until the coaches physically put him back in his proper spot.

A lot of parents would have been embarrassed with their child’s on-field behavior, but I found it quite entertaining. That’s because Brad was my third son to play T-ball. I’m a slow learner, but after two kids I finally came to a realization about my boys being baseball stars. It wasn’t gonna happen. Now I see T-ball for what it’s supposed to be – a way for kids to have fun, and for parents to judge their children’s interest in the sport going forward.

I also had the foresight to record a post first-game interview with my son on video. Here’s a partial transcript:

“Brad, did you have fun playing T-ball?

“Yes sir.”

“Did you hit the ball?”

“Yes sir.”

“Did you catch the ball when it came to the outfield?”

“Yes sir.”

“Oh, I must have missed it. When did you do that?”

“When you wasn’t looking.”

And with that, he looked over his shoulder, and made what he considered to be the most important statement concerning the game.

“Dad! I’ve gotta go now. If I’m not back in the dugout I’m gonna miss my treat!”

Interview over.

Hopefully other parents can learn this lesson faster than I did. It’s just a game – treat it that way. Take time to enjoy the moments that will vanish all too fast. It’s T-ball, a rite of childhood passage. Take time to stop and smell the corn dogs.

Joe Hobby is a comedian from Alabama who wrote for Jay Leno for many years. Find more of Joe’s stories on his blog: https://mylifeasahobby.blogspot.com. Follow him on Facebook at Joe Hobby Comedian- Writer.