Sunday, August 7, 2011

Value of informal sports

A friend called me up yesterday afternoon to see if I might want to play softball.  He was checking with a bunch of family friends who enjoy playing informal sports.  I packed up my softball glove, that hadn't seen any action for about 5 years or more, and rode my bike over to the park.

We started playing by letting everyone swing their way through a bucket of balls, as others played in the outfield.  While we were playing a boy, about the age of 12, wearing a red t-shirt and a pair of blue jeans with big rips through both legs watched from the bleachers behind home base.  I asked if he would like to join us. He said "sure".  Game on for Tommy.

Spontaneous dancing at Lake Harriet concert
Tommy needed a little coaching on where to stand while batting; just to the side of home base. After hitting the ball and being thrown out at first he didn't know where to go.  A little instruction helped him back toward the sidelines.  Through it all Tommy seemed to be having a blast.  An awkward smile never left his face.

Tommy later confessed to me that he had never been asked to play in a game of ball before.  He said he's a shy kid and wouldn't want to play in front of crowds at a big stadium.  He noted it didn't seem likely our group would be stadium bound.  Spot on Tommy ;-)

After the game, a nail biter, 6-5, Tommy said he hoped to bump into our group again.  I shared  how we didn't have a set time to play, but would welcome him again.  He smiled once more and headed homeward on his bike.  He didn't score a run or catch a pop fly, but I dare say no one enjoyed the game more than he.

I must confess to longing for kids to have more unstructured time to play pick-up games in their neighborhood.  Sports have become exceedingly organized, starting from an early age, and often carry a hefty price tag.  Tommy is a great reminder that there are still kids out there waiting to be asked to play in their first game of ball at the park down the road.

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