SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Batter Up



May 20, 2011

(SitNews) Ketchikan, Alaska -
Two or three years ago, Liam asked about being in “T-ball.”
jpg Dave Kiffer

 I demurred.

Then he asked a year or so later about being in “coach pitch.”

Once again, I found some excuse to avoid it.

It’s not that I don’t like sports, I love sports. When I was Liam’s age I managed to be in just about every available youth sport.

Of course, in those recreational dark ages, that meant only Little League baseball and Church League basketball in these here parts. There were some rumblings about youth football, but no youth soccer. The swimming pools had yet to be built. There was no indoor rec center and only a couple of gyms in the community. It was pretty much just baseball and basketball and I was all in.

Not that I was particularly good at either, but I sure was enthusiastic in my athletic mediocrity. More on that in a minute.

Okay, it’s not like we’ve been keeping Liam out of sports entirely. He’s been running in miles and 5-Ks since he was six or seven. He started micro soccer around the same time and still does indoor and outdoor soccer.

We even thought about Killer Whales swim team, but it turns out he has inherited the Kiffer talent for sinking. Good thing there isn’t a Youth Scuba League.

But when it came to the “serious” sports, well,  I just didn’t want to go there. Even some 40 years ago, it wasn’t always a pleasant experience taking part in youth baseball and basketball.

Oh, we kids had a good time. It was the parents who sometimes messed things up.

And I really didn’t want to become one of “those” parents!

Now, I realize I am painting all the parents of these sports with a broad brush and that’s unfair because 95 percent of them are great people who volunteer their time and just want to their kids to have a great time.

The other five percent are bound and determined to take things too seriously and ruin it for the rest.

They’re the ones who yell at the players, yell at the refs and yell at each other. They stand with their arms folded and glower at the field. They are ones who seem to think that everyone else is conspiring to keep their little darlings from achieving their potential, which the parent seems to believe is a professional sports career or at least a college scholarship.

Never mind that it is more likely that I hit can hit a Felix Hernandez fastball over the Safeco fence than their kid will grow up in Ketchikan and make “the show.” But after all, you gotta dream big to make up for all those practices and games in the rain.

I hated those parents when I played in Little League. I really, really, really hated them when I covered Little League for the Daily News years later. And it still turns my stomach today when I see coaches and officials driven out of local sports by parents who seem to take things a little too “seriously.”

So I have been naturally reluctant to subject our family to those more “serious” sports. Partly because – as a parent - I am just as likely to be unable to separate fact from fiction regarding my offspring as anyone else, probably even more so.

Heck, even in micro soccer I found myself – silently of course – questioning the coach’s decision making.

“How come Liam’s not on the field? Sheesh, he’s better than those other kids. No, don’t make him play defense! He’s another David Beckham. Good lordy gosh sakes, what is wrong with you????”

Of course, then Liam would trip over his own feet and fall down, but I never noticed that. I was just thinking that the coach should draw up more plays to “isolate him one on one on the wing.”

And then, one of the other players would accidentally “tackle” him.

“OMG! I can’t believe the other parents are raising such “hooligans.”"

You get the idea.

But when push comes to shove (preferably not on the field or in the stands), I love baseball. And I couldn’t hold Liam off the field forever.

Finally, this year I made Liam a deal that he could try baseball for one year to see how he liked it.  Natch, I assumed that he’d be mediocre like me and quickly go back to soccer and running.

Au contraire.

Now, I’m one of those parents who is suddenly seeing “scholarships” in the future and I feel a sudden urge to berate the coach for not “showcasing” my son. (“Right field, come on, he’ll never entice a scout sitting in right field!!!!”).

Well, it hasn’t quite got to that stage yet, but I can feel it coming. Liam has the one thing I never had. The ability to hit a baseball.

Oh, I was okay at baseball. I could catch the ball really well and I could throw it pretty well. But I couldn’t hit my way out of a paper bag. Just closed my eyes and swung wildly.

Almost never made contact.

In fact, I must have set some sort of record the only year that I was promoted from minor league to Little League (it was a rule that all 12 year olds had to be in Little League as it was called them – now they call it Majors.)

In the entire season, my bat only made contact with the ball six times. Each time the ball sailed off the bat it landed safely for a hit. I got six hits that year. And I struck out 14 times. In that entire year, I never hit a foul ball, never flied out, never lined out,  never grounded out, never hit into a fielder’s choice, nada. I walked a few times, but every official at bat was either a hit or a strikeout. Talk about go big or don’t go at all. And most of the time I just went back to the bench.

My saintly coach, Don MacMillan, really didn’t know what to do with me. They didn’t have designated hitters in those days. I’m sure he would have loved to have “hit” for me all game long, because I really was a pretty good first or third baseman at times.  Unfortunately, I cost my “Crystal Dairy” sponsored team more than a couple of games by fanning to end them.

As usual, I digress.

Now, they have this thing called a “batting cage.” It still wouldn’t have helped me 40 years ago, but the first time Liam stepped into the cage, he started spraying line drives like Albert Pujols. Even when he faces a live person he can still tag the ball every so often.

Not sure where he inherited that skill.

I just know that he’s gonna make it big someday. But first we need to get him out of right field!

Actually, he plays first base most of the time because he did inherit some of my ability to catch a baseball. And he throws it pretty well.  Although he is learning that pitching is harder than it looks.

But even better, he’s not been up to his ears in Little League since he was five so he’s able to understand that it’s just a fun game and nothing to get overly bent out of shape about, win or lose.

Now, if his father will just stop taking things so “seriously.”

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Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
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