The Cheviot Hills Pony League Baseball tryouts were this weekend at Rancho Park. Did you play little league when you were a kid? I did. And I kind of hated it. My dad was one of the coaches which was nice- he wasn’t one of those scary dad coaches that yelled at everybody, but the sport itself was just not for me. I hated the pressure of being at bat, all eyes of the team staring at me in worried expectation. Fielding was really no better. If a ball was hurling through the sky, I’d usually hope it would land somewhere as far away from me as possible. I actually didn’t discover the sport I loved until I was a freshman at Santa Monica High School: water polo. Maybe it was a result of growing up in Malibu, surfing in the Pacific Ocean as often as weekends and after school afternoons would allow, but discovering a sport that was active, competitive, and took place in the water was ultimately the one for me.
I have two boys interested in baseball. Really, one who is borderline obsessed, one who likes the camaraderie of the dugout and an excuse to wield a bat, and one son who’s experience mimicked mine and after one season, opted to keep searching for a sport better suited to his interests. For the two boys who are so far sticking with it, this weekend was their tryouts and, of course, memories of my own time playing came flooding back.
There are some rather obvious differences between the kids playing in Cheviot Hills’ league and my time in Malibu during the early 1980s. First of all, what alleviates a great deal of pressure off these kids today is: everyone makes a team no matter how terrible they play. The league encourages kids with little or no experience to get in the game so no matter what, they’re making a team and will play some baseball.
And they’re not going to get heckled as a result of their lack of experience nor will the more established players get yelled at for flubbing a play. Sure, if they’re goofing around or not paying attention out there, they’re going to hear about it! But there is also an understanding amongst the coaches, parents and kids that heckling or yelling at the players, umpires or each other is not tolerated.
However, with that said, another difference between today and the baseball of my youth is how seriously it’s all taken. Sure, the kids have fun- nothing beats being part of a team of kids to be goofy with. But with the amount of time these coaches and managers have devoted to bettering the players in their charge, there isn’t a lot of time to be too goofy at all. With hours of after-school practice during the week, as well as marathon-long weekend games, many of these players also seek private coaches to fine-tune their technique. And the gear many of these kids want just play a game of ball is astounding! Bat, mitt, batting gloves, wristbands, helmet, cleats, sunglasses, bat grips, titanium ionic necklaces… Sports Chalet should just have a direct link to my bank account so I don’t see how much it all adds up to.
Only time will tell if this is the sport that will follow my boys through high school and beyond. For the time being, I will say, there is something extremely neighborhood-y and nice about the two of them being a part of this league. They are encouraged, befriended, challenged and respected. My wife and I love being in the stands, running into friends we know, enjoying the snacks and letting the dog hang out during the games while we watch all of the action.
I can’t help but be proud, too, of the fact that they are choosing to participate in a sport that has nothing to do with my pressuring them to do so. They opted to play baseball all on their own and I’m glad they’re working hard and seem to be really enjoying it.
So, if you’re looking for me on the weekends, if I’m not holding an open house, I’ll be in the bleachers at Rancho Park. Play Ball!