Being a parent is one way.
I’ve covered the Lebanon Girls Softball Association for years. It was a slow-pitch league when I began and transitioned into a fastpitch (at least for the older girls) league within the last 20 years.
My two daughters have just completed their first season in LGSA, facing the offerings from their coaches.
From having never picked up a bat to wearing a glove to throwing a ball before February, their coaches have gone out of their way to teach them how to do the simplest fundamentals of playing the game. When I pitched to them after school during the middle of the season, I could see a clear comparison of the improvement they made since the winter.
Watching baseball/softball for years, you take so many aspects of the game for granted. But when you’re teaching someone from scratch, you realize just how complicated this so-called “simple game” really is.
When is a ball fair or foul? That’s relatively easy.
How about knowing when a force play is on and you only have to step on the base ahead of the runner or when it’s not on and you have to tag the runner between bases? What is obvious to experienced players is complicated to the novice.
During an early-season game, practice or scrimmage, I told the daughter who wasn’t playing at the moment the batter is out when a batted ball is caught in the air, something I knew she hadn’t been taught at that point. Not that it mattered. They hadn’t learned to catch a fly ball yet.
But the improvement in all the teams and players from March to June is apparent. More fly balls are being caught. More balls are being hit hard.
That’s a tribute to the hard work put in by coaches and players.
Then there’s the sport of youth softball itself. Taking in scoresheets for years, I wondered why and how some hits were scored as they were? Simple, there are no errors in the league. One can hit a home run by not hitting the ball out of the infield if there are multiple mis-throws.
I would get a sheet and wonder why someone noted at the bottom of the page that a player caught a pop fly. Plays that are routine for high school kids are difficult in elementary school.
I’ve learned if you can just hit the ball fair, you have a 70-percent chance (that’s a wild guess) of reaching base safely. It’s well over 90 percent if you hit the ball to the left side of the infield. Throws from third base to first are extremely difficult and players and coaches learn it’s best to just hold the ball or run the ball toward the runner to hold them to the nearest base until time is called.
Quite frankly, after covering high school and college sports in the spring, often in a championship setting, transitioning over to covering youth sports as soon as school lets out for the summer is rather jarring. I tend to compare the little kids to the big kids and grownups I’ve spent the previous 9-10 months watching.
Obviously, that’s not fair.
One of my jobs as a parent is to teach my kids. But I’ve gotten just as much of an education watching youth softball from a different perspective this spring.
My daughters, who had played soccer and basketball in previous seasons, have learned to enjoy the game to the point they’ll play it – in the house. Fortunately, they improvise with soft plastic balls and other toys in place of the real thing. Nothing has been broken – yet.
And I’ve had a joy in watching sports from another angle. Not having to score games and figure out what’s a hit and what’s an error is so refreshing.
From my perspective, the LGSA season was a hit.
Andy Reed is The Democrat’s sports editor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @wilsoncosports.