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Softball reminds us of the best of sports

May 31, 2004|By TIM ROWLAND

I was experimenting with a batch of bathtub gasoline when young Alexa popped into the room reminding me that she had a softball game that evening.She is a proud member of the feared Allegheny Dental squad of the Washington County Girls Softball League, a truly great organization that has provided both of us with much joy this spring.

Now perhaps you are scratching your head, wondering how a hardened, George Will-like baseball fanatic such as myself - who goes nuts when a batter fails to hit to the right side of the infield early in the count with less than two outs and runners at first and second - can enjoy watching 13-year-old girls play a form of the game.

Well I'll tell you: I don't know. But it is the case. True, sometimes watching young girls play softball can be a little like watching a toddler eat a poached egg. But that's part of the beauty, I think.

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When Alexa first announced she wished to play softball, I was heartened that we evidently shared a common interest in sports. And can there be anything more American than a grilled burger and a softball game on Memorial Day? Outside of oversized cupholders, I mean.

But I was a tad worried, because I'd seen Peter Jennings and heard all the horror stories about vicious parents and coaches at youth ballgames.

"Aw, does this mean I'm going to have to beat people up like some crazed hockey dad?" I asked.

Apparently not versed in the paradigm, Alexa just wrinkled her nose, as she routinely does whenever my ignorance spills onto the floor in quantities requiring a bucket and mop.

Fortunately, we have Coach Dave, who is laid-back and wonderful with the girls, as is his fine staff. Somehow, they are able to get girls to listen to them, although I've never had any luck at it. Maybe it's the authority that comes with wearing a uniform. So next time I want her to walk the dog, I might try putting on an Allegheny Dental T-shirt before I ask.

This experience has turned me into one proud papa as I've watched her go from a girl who literally did not know left field from right into a contributor. And it is the one place where my expertise outweighs the Third Base Coach in High Heels who, frankly, thinks a squeeze play has to do with making orange juice.

Of course it is possible to know too much, and when I get caught up in the moment and yell something like "Don't worry if she hums that pea, you got ducks on the pond, so just lay off the high cheese," which pretty much embarrasses the poor girl right down to her cleats.

Some of these girls, like Santana, will heckle me right back, so I have to be careful and sit on my hands so as not to appear too much of the old fool. And you have to adjust your humor. When the threat of a tornado sent our pitcher Laura and catcher Ally scurrying to their cars, I said "Wow, that's the fastest I've lost a battery since the time I parked in the East Bronx."

Now this just happens to be an excellent joke that any person with the age and baseball expertise of Casey Stengle would guffaw at. (In those days, they did not laugh, they guffawed). But the kids just looked at me, as I suppose they do at the big dinosaur skeleton in the Museum of Natural History.

But sometimes it's hard not to get wrapped up in the moment, particularly if Laura is shutting down the other team, Ally is stealing bases, Heather or Amber or Danielle is smacking one past the outfielders or Jordie is snaring a line drive high above her head that would make any high school boy shortstop proud.

Of course I feel bad about only naming a few, but I love them all equally. They play so hard and with so much joy. There are no rumors of steroids, no contract holdouts, no whining about playing time, no free agency, no complaining about the strike zone, no arrogant unions or greedy owners.

It's awful.

In the entire season, I never even saw one misbehaving parent. It's just so doggone wholesome it all but kills me; having fun and getting along is all well and good, but it doesn't make for good humor copy. I mean, if just one of them would charge the mound or something ...

But it has been fun to be reminded of what sports can and should be. As Earl Weaver said of the old days in speaking of Cal Ripken: "He loved to play; didn't we all love to play."

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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