Later this week, my family and I will depart for the Sunshine State for a week of being at the beach and baseball. Our oldest grandson and his Fury 10U squad will play in the USSSA "Elite 32" World Series in Melbourne. The entire team is staying at the same place so staying on the beach will be super fun for the boys and their families. Of course, this coronavirus thing is still very much a factor in everything we do.
Statistical data for Brevard County in Florida shows Covid-19 numbers are much less there than most any other place in Florida, though the latest stats we have are about two weeks old.
Our coaches have done a great job monitoring things in Melbourne and, if we continue to practice social distancing as we've done the last six weeks, we should be okay. Of course, some of us have masks with the Fury team logo so we're as prepared as we can be.
The approach is much different these days, and the game itself has changed quite a bit. When I was playing ball in the 1960s, the only league you could play in was Little League and the earliest a youngster could begin play was 10 years old. There was no tee ball and, for a kid that loved baseball so much as I did, having to wait until your 10th birthday to begin play was something that tormented your soul. When you were finally old enough to play you were beyond excited. In Madison, Tn., where I grew up, there was the Major League for the best players, there was the Minor League for the marginal players, and there was what was called the "Saturday Morning League" for the kids who just wanted to play for fun. I'm not even sure they kept score on Saturday mornings.
I played in the Minor League the first year and went to the Majors as an 11- and 12-year-old. My dad was my coach and I had a blast playing the game I loved so dearly. I remember the Little League patches that you wore on your left shoulder. I also remember the terrible looking batters' helmets you wore in games when you came to the plate. They were basically just two large pieces of hard plastic that covered your ears and nothing else. In other words, they offered very little protection. We also didn't wear sweat bands, eye black or batting gloves. We also had no elbow protectors nor any other extra batting aids. It was just us, a bat and that silly looking batters' helmet covering our ears.
The coaches were dedicated but several of them were not interested in seeing that every kid got in the games. That is one aspect of the game that has changed for the better. If your team won a championship you got a trophy. If you weren't part of a championship squad, there were no participation trophies.
Kids' baseball is a sacred part of growing up in our country. Not every kid will play baseball but those that do develop relationships and bonds that will last for a lifetime. Other sports offer some of the same things but baseball is different. It's special in its own way and the memories these kids are making today will stick with them forever.
Randy Smith can be reached at email@example.com