Sports

Play Ball

Little League is back on the diamond

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Listen outside.
Can you hear it?
The crack of the bat.
Can you see it?
The second baseman making the perfect pivot and turning two.
Can you feel it?

The thrill of the diving stab, of cowhide hitting leather, and the anticipation of whether it will stay there when the polyester uniform hits the dirt.

The answer is, of course, “it depends,” because we’re not talking about the Boston Red Sox. Or the New York Yankees. Or even the Pawtucket Red Sox.

No indeed. What’s out there – what you see, hear and feel – is not the polished professionalism of Pedroia, Ellsbury or Gonzalez – nor is it Jeter, Cano or Rivera.

It’s the Fox Point/East Side Little League, and the season is upon us.

For the umpteenth year in a row (we looked it up!), the 240 young men and women of Fox Point and the East Side will congregate twice a week, and once a weekend, to hone their baseball skills and demonstrate the civility and sportsmanship that is so often lacking in our professional athletes.

With players aged 5 to 12, and with myriad volunteer coaches aged (well, just aged), FPESLL will again be operated within its traditional four divisions: Tee Ball (ages 5 and 6), Double A (AA) (ages 7 and 8), Triple A (AAA) (ages 9, 10 and 11) and the Majors (age 12, with ages 10 and 11 by invitation only).

Tee ball is what every movie portrays it to be. With a ball placed on a rubber tee at home plate, the batter corkscrews him - or herself into the ground hoping to put the ball in play. And once that happens, look out. Each and every fielder – regardless of position, of course – flocks to the ball just in time to pick it up and fling it in the general direction of someone, anyone, who looks prepared to catch it. (You in the stands – look alive out there.) Starting with running the bases in order – even incorporating the time-honored Sanzo Method of shouting out the names of the bases as they are touched – tee ball introduces the young novice to critical elements of the game.

The FPESLL AA division turns it up a notch. The rubber tee at home plate is replaced by fathers and mothers pitching from the mound a scant 20 feet away, who do their best to make sure their own earned run averages are as high as they can be. At AA, the kids learn (and stay in) their positions, and get the treasured assignment of even putting on catcher’s gear for an inning once every three games.

The AAA division leads all divisions in the category of “Most times parents say ‘Hey, this looks like real baseball!’” Played at McKenna-Frutchey Field, AAA gives the players their first exposure to observing many established rules of the game (like three outs make a half-inning). At the AAA level, the teams are allowed to “win” and “lose,” and there is a playoff and All-Star Game. Kids talk of pitch counts and standings, even though every game ends with the familiar parallel lines of right hands extended, and players congratulating each other on a “good game.”

But for the kids, the pinnacle of it all, the object of their springs of hard work, the last step in their FPESLL development, is the call they get one night in mid-March after having attended one of the two mandatory tryouts – the call that they have been drafted onto one of the four teams in the majors. For years, the kids have heard about Arden, MTI, Hot Club and yes, East Side Monthly, wondering which one would claim “their rights” for the season.

The season starts on Monday, April 23. If you want to catch a tee ball or AA game, wander behind the Alliance Jewish Community Center (the “Alliance JCC”) at the corner of Elmgrove and Sessions Avenues any weekday between April 23 and June 15, starting at 5:30pm. For AAA or the majors, bring your peanuts and Cracker Jack to the baseball complex on Power Street, east of Gano (but note that major league games are not usually scheduled on Wednesdays). Just turn east at the Gano Mart, and you’ll see (and likely hear) the action.

For more information about the Fox Point/East Side Little League, including the game schedule, visit the league’s website, www.fpesll.com. For individual inquiries, address them to the league’s secretary, Eric Schultz, at info@fpesll.com. Although space in the league is limited by logistical caps on rosters, there still may be openings at the AAA and AA levels, and certainly at the tee ball level.

Play ball. Or at the very least, watch ‘em have fun trying!