Last fall, when the country was gripped with Toronto Blue Jays fever, a lot of kids got caught up in the excitement, too. Parents from coast to coast were bombarded with baseball-related questions from their kids, like, “Can I dress up as Jose Bautista for Halloween?”; “Can I get my hair cut like Josh Donaldson?” and “Can I join a baseball team next year?”
Easy yeses, right? (Although you may have regretted the whole Donaldson haircut thing on school picture day.) But now that spring has rolled around, it’s time to make good on that promise and sign up your son or daughter to play baseball this season.
If it’s his first time in a league, he’ll have some things to learn. But so will you. Before your kid steps up to the plate, here’s what you need to know.
1. Manage your expectations
Kid’s first time playing T-ball? Keep your expectations low. When it’s his turn at bat, he’ll be lucky if he even makes contact with the ball—it’ll be more like watching kids take blindfolded swings at a pinata. And if he does miraculously get a hit, be ready to yell “Ruuun!” Most kids are so surprised—and thrilled!—to get a hit that they forget to sprint for first base. (And the ones that do usually bring the bat with them.)
Other popular phrases shouted by parents at the neighbourhood diamond include, “Nice try, slugger!” and “Don’t scratch down there right now, sweetie.”
2. Don’t sign up to be a volunteer pitcher
At some point, your kid will graduate from T-ball to an awkward and terrifying phase known as “coach pitch,” where kids swing at a ball lobbed at them, quite often by a parent volunteer. Do yourself a favour: Do not volunteer. It seems like it would be kind of fun, you’re thinking. But no. For one thing, the pressure is ridiculous. How fast should I throw it? Do I throw it with a looping arc or straight on? Do I toss it overhand or underhand? Oh god—what if I accidentally hit the kid? Trust me, when you’re on the mound, you’ll wish you could just be sitting on a cheap camping chair sipping lukewarm wine out of a flask like all the other parents.
3. Don’t volunteer to coach, either
Being a baseball coach is a lot of responsibility. Most likely, you’ll be in charge of bringing all the equipment—the bats, helmets and bases. If you left that stuff in the back of the minivan your spouse took to work that day, you’d better be prepared to improvise. “OK kids, remember: The jumper cables are first base, the spare tire is second base and my security pass from work is third. Clear?”
But the toughest part of being a baseball coach at the beginner level is trying to give everybody a position they can understand.
You: “OK buddy, you’re shortstop this inning.”
Kid: “Um, where’s shortstop?”
You: “It’s between second base and third base.”
Kid: “Which one is third base again?”
You: “Never mind. Go play right field.”
Kid: “Um, where’s right field?”
You: “Just keep running until I tell you to stop.”
4. Try not to be terrified
In hockey, your kid brings her own helmet to the game, but that’s usually not the case in baseball. Each team has about five batting helmets that all the kids share. Try your best not to think about the dramatically increased odds that your kid’s coming home with head lice.
5. Nobody will know the final score
At the end of the game, when your kid excitedly asks “Did we win?!” you won’t know. Nobody will. In the early stages of baseball, players on defence are usually too disorganized (or too busy chasing butterflies) to actually make any outs, so the runs will just keep adding up. You’ll have no idea if your kid’s team won 20 to 18 or lost by that much, because even the official scorekeeper stopped paying attention in the second inning.
6. End on a high note
No matter how the game went, leave the diamond with some encouraging and positive words. “I loved your hustle today!” for example, will leave your kid beaming with pride…even if you were actually referring to her post-game sprint for the Bear Paws and juice boxes.
Ottawa-based sports radio host Ian Mendes gets candid about parenting and raising two girls with his wife, Sonia, on his blog. Follow along at todaysparent.com/ianmendes.
A version of this article appeared in our April 2016 issue with the headline “Spring Training,” p. 42.