Saturday, June 7, 2014

Summer 2014, Day 15

Baseball season ended today, but let's get the rest of the day out of the way first.

I had a hell of a time trying to grill today. The new propane tank I bought didn't work, then the meat thermometer gave me a minor false reading and I had to put the steaks and chicken back on the grill. The T-bones at least turned out well (I can't speak for the chicken). We played the board game Dominion tonight as a family (I won, but just barely!) and then I got a bit lazy, only managing to take the dog around the block (she had been at Ben's baseball game and got enough outside time then).

Now for baseball. Three years ago, in Michael's first season of machine pitch, Ben would be don a helmet and be a runner during fielding practice. One day, he asked if he could get in the batter's box and try hitting a pitch. On the second ball, he amazingly hit it. Not far, but he got his bat on it. At another practice, he did it again at age 5. He played t-ball that summer and would hit lobbed baseballs when he was at-bat (the kids had a coach-pitch option instead of using the tee). The next year, in an effort to simplify our lives, we signed Ben and Michael up for the same machine pitch team, thinking that Ben already knew how to hit the ball.

Unfortunately, he struggled that first season, I think ending up with only two hits. But he had fun and learned the game. The next spring, at his first practice, he got into the batter's box and started hitting the machine pitches. I was so relieved, but the success was short-lived. He took a pitch off his finger -- I think he just swung too soon -- and lost all his confidence. He would start swinging at anything just to get it out of the way, hoping maybe he'd get lucky and hit it. But he knew the game, asking if he could just take a walk. He finished they year with two hits and a couple foul balls.

This season, Ben struggled from the get-go. But after getting two foul balls in his first game, I was convinced he was ready to break out of his slump.He didn't. Again, it looked like he was swinging just for the sake of swinging. I'd tell him to swing at the ball, and he would complain that he was, not getting that I wanted him to aim his bat at the pitch and not just swing for the heck of it. He'd swing too soon before the ball even got near the late, and by the end of the year developed a weird kink in which he was lifting his front shoulder and then swinging the bat. He was frustrated. I was frustrated.

Ben finished the year with just one hit. I was soft-tossing oversized whiffle balls to him before the game, and he was even missing those. I wish I knew how he was a better hitter when he was barely 5 than when he was 8. He struck out three times today. After the last one, he wasn't upset or sad but had a smile a resigned smile on his face. I kissed him and told him "good try." The Diamondbacks went on to win 12-2.

I don't know about next year yet. Ben says he wants to try kid pitch. Indeed, some of the pitchers next year won't pitch quite as fast as the machine (which was set at only about 30 mph). And he can take the walks he so covets and not swing at all -- I've seen kids get plenty of runs this way. He's a decent fielder, and he does like the game. But seeing no improvement in three seasons has been rough, for him and me. I'm still proud of Ben, of course, but part of me hopes he focuses on the sports he's better at -- soccer, basketball and, especially, swimming. The other part of me wants him to keep trying and not give up. I know a coach who does wonders teaching kids to hit, but he's so over the top that he can drive you crazy. Do I make a deal with the devil to get Ben help with his bat? And if I do, what happens if even that doesn't work?

I'm just happy the season is over for both boys. That's the last spring commitment, and now we can focus on all our summer plans. Basketball camp starts in two days ...

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