Little Zeek and I had practiced his tee-ball batting and catching skills all week long. His confidence was built on positive reinforcement and repetitious drills, in the back yard. The little guy must’ve smacked that rubber tee half a dozen times, before finally connecting with the small hardball, on home-practice day one. By day five, he was able to set the ball and knock that sucker into the neighbor’s backyard, without my help.
“Did you see that? See how far I banged that one, Daddy?” he had said to me while jumping up in down. His little face beamed with joy. That ball had flown a good sixty feet. Not bad for a three-foot, five-inch tall, five-year old.
“Holy-cow, Bubs! That ball flew like a rocket,” I yelled. “Who’s my big boy, ready to play some big boy tee-ball?”
“I am!” he yelled.
He followed up that amazing display with nine more power hits, into the neighbor’s yard. Then we switched positions. Zeek donned his brand new catcher’s mitt and scurried off toward the far fence-line. Knees bent, eyes set, feet spread apart, little guy readied himself for the first ball.
“Alright, my man! I like that stance, bubs. You’re ready,” I said to my son as I tossed the first hardball vertically before me. Unfortunately, I wasn’t as prepared as I initially thought. I think I must have forgotten I was playing with a short kid, because my bat connected with that floating ball pretty hard. The tell-tale ‘PING’ shocked my ears, and that ball whizzed straight for Zeek.
“Uh-Oh,” I whispered.
Zeek darted for the screaming ball. It bounce off the grass, and went airborne. Just as he opened his arms, the hardball connected with his chin. Zeek crumpled to the ground; a limp heap of five-year old. It was a good hit.
“OOoooo…,” I said.
My face scrunched and contorted. I wanted to run to him, but didn’t want to make a big deal of it, either. Instead, I remained frozen preparing for the yelp and associated tears I knew were coming. Then I’d fly to the rescue. But my little guy picked himself up, shook his head twice, brushed off his dirty pants, and picked up the ball lying at his feet.
“That was awesome, Daddy! Did you see me stop it! Did you see it?” he asked exuberantly.
My mouth hung agape. My little guy had taken the hit, and rose to his feet.
“Outstanding, bubs! I think you’re ready for tomorrow.” I said.
So here we are, at the baseball diamond. Zeek had been excited during the ride to the field. This was the first team practice of the season and he was anxious to show off his new skills. But as we approached the field, he became intimidated by all the other players. Not only was he the shortest kid out here, but his teammates displayed the catching and batting skills of seasoned tee-ballers. Zeek suddenly remembered this was his first time playing.
“Hi, mister Smith. I’m coach Andy,” the coach said as we shook hands. “And this must be Isaiah.”
“My Daddy calls me Zeek,” my little guy responded in a timid voice.
“Ah, OK. Then, Zeek it is! You’re just in time, Zeek. We’re gonna start up batting practice, and guess who’s first?” coach Andy announced. “Why don’t you leave your glove with Dad, and I’ll get the guys set in the field. You step up to the tee when you’re ready, buddy.”
As coach Andy walked toward the field, Zeek looked up at me with sad eyes.
“A little scared buddy?” I asked. “Wanna pray first?”
Zeek dropped his glove, grabbed my hands and took the lead.
“Dear Jesus…” he started. “…please help me hit the ball good, and catch good, today. Amen.”
My eyes welled up in tears. Before I could say anything, he ran toward the batting-tee. As he set up on the first ball, the assistant coach walked over and introduced himself to me.
“Your little guy ever played tee-ball before?” he asked.
“Nope. First time, ever.” I said.
We watched as little Zeek cracked the first ball deep into center field. The second ball flew deep into left field. The third ball, a grounder, zinged up right field.
From the pitcher’s mound, coach Andy yelled to me, “Dad, this his first time?”
“Sure is,” I yelled back.
“Outstanding! I think I just found my cleanup batter for the season!” he yelled.
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