Daughter cleans up at home plate

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

I'm not soft on softball.

But I must confess it's fun to sit out in a portable, canvas chair in Cape Girardeau's Arena Park on a summer night and watch a bunch of grade-school girls run the bases.

Our youngest daughter, 8-year-old Bailey, is in her second year of learning the sport.

There are two great things about softball at this age: No one keeps score and the coaches do the pitching.

As a result, few batters strike out and the ball routinely gets put in play. Getting people out can be a challenge, particularly since it takes a while for the girls to realize that they can throw the ball to a teammate rather than simply field the ball and chase the runner all over the bases.

What's also nice is that you don't have to actually retire anybody to set down the side. The half-inning ends once everyone on the team bats, assuming that the team hasn't already made three outs.

Of course, if it wasn't for Chicago's George Hancock, I probably wouldn't be hanging out at Arena Park on summer evenings and spending my hard-earned money at the concession stand.

Softball originated in Chicago on Thanksgiving Day 1887, when Hancock and 19 other young men gathered in the gymnasium of the Farragut Boat Club to hear the outcome of the Harvard-Yale football game.

After Yale's victory and bets were paid off, a man picked up a stray boxing glove and threw it at another young man who hit it with a pole.

Hancock shouted, "Let's Play Ball." And softball was born.

Hancock tied the boxing glove so that it resembled a ball, chalked out a diamond on the gym floor and broke off a broom handle to serve as a bat.

That first game of softball must have looked rather odd. But Hancock kept at it, creating an oversized ball and an undersized rubber-tipped bat. He called it "indoor baseball."

Bailey loves the ball diamond, right down to home plate.

She even has the makings of an umpire.

She loves to dust off home plate, and every other base for that matter.

The other evening she studiously swept the dirt off home plate before ever shouldering the bat. Then she whacked a double.

After crossing home plate later in the inning with another run, she rushed over to tell me that she can't stand seeing dirt on home plate.

Later in the game while playing first base, she felt compelled to clean off the base after a base runner stirred up the dirt.

I told one of the coaches that I wish Bailey would take as much interest in cleaning up her bedroom as she does the ball diamond.

But maybe there's hope that this sweeping-up thing eventually will catch on with Bailey at home and not just on the field.

Meanwhile, she's learning the finer points of softball such as chewing gum while you hit and field.

She's been known to blow a big bubble while running from third base to home plate, clearly an ESPN moment.

And unlike baseball, there's no spitting involved.

Of course, occasionally chewing gum gets caught in players' hair. But there are dangers with any sport.

Besides, when your team is sponsored by a car wash, you can't help but blow a few bubbles.

Mark Bliss is a staff writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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