T-Ball’s 5- and 6-year-olds have fun while learning America’s favorite sport
ELLETTSVILLE — The dirt in the infield, softened by last Sunday’s rains, got quite a workout Monday evening during the game between the Ellettsville United Methodist Church Angels and the Bloomington Firefighters Royals. Infielders, boys and girls ages 5 and 6, kicked at the dirt. They pawed at it to dislodge rocks and dirt clods. Some squatted down to examine it in minute detail.
But they played ball, too. They caught or at least blocked ground balls. They threw the ball to first base, or in that general direction. This marked a significant advance since the season’s start in the Richland Bean Blossom Youth Sports T-Ball league.
“During our first game, kids were building actual dirt castles out there,” Angels manager Kayle Mena recalled. “A grounder would go past two or three of them, then everybody would chase it into the outfield, with nobody left in the infield.
“This is our fourth game, and we’re working on fielders calling balls if it’s their play to make. It’s slow progress, but they’re getting the idea. More and more of them are getting in front of the ball and stopping it.”
And more and more of the time, they’re hitting the pitched ball when at the plate. Batters get to swing at five pitches, lobbed in by their coaches, before the tee is brought out.
Mena played high school varsity softball in New London, Iowa. She coached a youth cheerleading squad a couple of years ago, and there is plenty of additional coaching acumen in the family. Her husband, Mike, who assists with the Angels, is an assistant coach for Indiana University’s wrestling program who wrestled for legendary Iowa coach Dan Gable in college — and remains the only four-time undefeated state champion in Illinois high school wrestling history.
Not that coaching T-Ball requires elaborate coaching strategy. She and her husband just enjoy spending some quality time with their daughter, Gracie, and the other kids on the team.
“I like working with kids and seeing them have fun,” Kayle Mena said. “I’ve been around a lot of wrestling. That sport is so competitive and parents get intense. These kinds of activities are just fun, at this age. Most of these kids haven’t played before. We want them to have fun, be safe and learn the basics. The competition comes later.”
No score quantifies the proceedings, in that spirit. No outs are recorded, lest youthful enthusiasm be deflated.
“This is a really nice league,” said Amy Jones, mother of Angels rookie Nathan Jones. “The kids have fun. Nathan really likes playing first base.”
Nathan plays there, in part, because he’s one of the players on the team already adept at catching a thrown ball. Having an older brother to play catch with helps in that regard.
Elder brother Brett, who plays in the ages 9-10 league at Ellettsville, was dividing his attention between watching his brother’s team play Monday and building items with his “Lego Mars Mission” set, while sisters Brooke, 4, and Alyssa, 2, played among nearby trees.
“T-Ball was very educating,” Brett recalled. “It builds up eye-hand coordination and helps you learn rules and be a better player. I told Nathan it was really fun. The 9-10 league is more difficult, but still fun.”
Soon afterward, the game’s final batter, Tyler McPike, got ahold of one and rounded the bases. As he crossed home plate and, heading back to the dugout, looked up and pointed into the stands at his mother, Jennifer, and grandmother, Jeanne. “Nice home run!” he exclaimed, making certain they understood the magnitude of it.
Big fun, indeed.