Sunday, July 21, 2013

T-Ball: "The Best Free Entertainment In Town"

The former president of Little League in Lubbock, Texas once told me that t-ball was the "Best Free entertainment in town."  He was speaking to me as a parent then, and he was right, but what he didn't tell me was that coaching is where the real fun happens.

Back in May,  Melissa and I found out that Nolan's t-ball team didn't have a coach, so we signed up for the job.  I attended the parents meeting where I was informed that Provo plays what I call "Kumbaya ball," where everyone bats each inning, there's never a third out, and everyone wins. Callan played this kind of t-ball in Ohio and it was great fun.  At the meeting I got a mesh bag from the city with three t-balls, two helmets, a bat, and a T.
 We had ten little five- and six-year-olds and we practiced once a week on Tuesdays and games every Saturday and we did our best to live up to our one imperative from the city--make sure everybody has fun.  Callan helped coach and we did the normal throwing and hitting practice, but my two favorite activities were when we played "catch coach" in which Callan and I ran all over the field and the kids tried to tag us with their gloves, and another game that didn't have a name but involved all the kids lining up facing the backstop about twenty feet away and then throwing balls at the fence, where I stood waiting to catch their tosses and roll them back out to them.  The goal was for them to get more balls at the fence then I got out in the field.  In theory this was a great game that would get them throwing the ball a lot, but in practice (no pun intended) it meant ten kids throwing baseballs at me.  Luckily none of them had strong enough arms to hit me and they thought it was great fun watching their coach scramble around like a moving target.

At the games Melissa ran the dug out, getting kids ready to bat and keeping folks happy and I helped batters get to the plate, observe correct batting stance, and run the right direction when they hit the ball. We had one boy who had such  a difficult time running in a straight line to first base (he usually ended up veering toward the pitchers mound or stopping to stir the dust in front of home plate') that I resorted to chasing him down the baseline telling him in a mock-monster voice I was going to "get him" (once when he was the last batter of the inning and was going to have to run around all the bases without stopping, I ended up chasing him all around the bases like was great fun).

Nolan really came into his own out on the field.  About three weeks before t-ball started he said, "I don't want to play," which is the kind of thing he says two or three weeks before starting something new, but by the time practices rolled around, he was suiting up in full hand-me-down uniforms and wearing his glove around all afternoon. We made sure that every kid got to play every position, but it was always really fun to see Nolan and some of the other more coordinated kids playing infield and actually making some plays.

We had our fair share of tears from kids for all the usual reasons--getting tagged out, not getting to bat first, getting hit by the ball, getting tagged out, dropping their snack on the ground, getting tagged out---but it wouldn't be t-ball without some tears.  By the end of the season all the kids were hitting pitches from me during games rather than using the tee, and every single kid had a lot of fun. Mission accomplished.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The problem with zoo photos (and vacation photos in general)

A few weeks ago we met our good friends The Grovers at the Hogle Zoo for a morning of viewing the animals and catching up (We've known the Grovers since they became THE Grovers, and I've known Grover himself since we took a British Lit class together at BYU in 2004).  They were in SLC for a wedding and they had just enough time to squeeze us in to their busy trip schedule--and we were glad they could do it.

We met at the zoo parking lot about 9:30 AM and bought our tickets.  The heat was not yet what I would call "oppressive" when we entered the zoo, but it was on its way, so we were interested in seeing as much of the zoo as possible before it became unbearable (particularly for Emily Grover, who is about to have a baby).

How to chronicle a day at the zoo with two of your favorite people during the first major heatwave of the summer?  There are plenty of built in photo opportunities at the zoo.  Large animal statues to pose with, large real animals to use as backdrops, large groups of strangers to enlist to help take your picture. 
The bird show was my favorite part of the day (even with its choreographed fly-bys and over-wrought script and shameless plugs for donations--they have a bird trained to take dollar bills and put them in a donation box), but none of the photos I took came out.  None of the in-your-face shots of owls and eagles and cockatoos brushing our heads with their wings; none of the diving falcons, none of the graceful flocks of doves.
(This photo doesn't do justice to the sensation created by the doves as they swept by us as a group--how do they train them to do that?--and it doesn't do justice to the overall quality of the bird show, which really was something to behold, and it doesn't even do justice to the back of this guys head, whoever he is).
All I want to do, all most of us want to do, I think, when I pull out my camera on vacation, or at a piano recital or a baseball game, or at the zoo, is to capture a bit of the moment.  The concentrated energy and playfulness in the step of a three year old as he marches up the path, not yet old enough to know he should complain about the heat; the anticipation of a child who waits in line to stick his head through the wooden cut-out of a gorilla; the pleasure of sharing with good friends the novelty of an elephant doing a head stand while her trainer dangles a handful of fruit in front of her trunk (this feat actually occurred while we were watching the elephant show, but I missed seeing it and recording it because, that's right, I was fiddling  with my camera).

I think there is something more to it than memories though. Sure we want other people to know (else why all the instant sharing options on my camera phone, why else twitter and instagram and facebook, and this blog), but all that I think is secondary to the bigger issue: we want ourselves to know.  We want reassurances that we are really living, that we are taking the time to go and do and see, to visit old friends and give our children memories worth taking with them into adulthood.  And so we prop up the camera and set the timer and we squeeze everyone in and tell people to smile because we want to remember that on this day we got out of the house, we put down the work on our desks, we reached out to people important to us and we tried to live in ways that would make the philosophers and the prophets and our grandparents proud (even if we can't manage to keep our fingers out of the photo when we're trying to set the timer).
Thanks Emily and David for a fun morning.