The leadoff hitter, with his oversized shirt dangling almost to his knees and a batting helmet balancing precariously on his small head, was dragging his bat in the dirt at the edge of the Diamondbacks dugout.
His coach bent down, explaining to No. 4 that he needed to step up to the plate so the game could begin.
The young player, all of 4 years old with priorities greater than standing in a batter’s box, looked at the coach and uttered five words Bruce Bochy has probably never heard in the Giants dugout: “I didn’t get my Skittle.”
A couple minutes earlier, while the coach was in the dugout handing out his pregame treat — one Skittle per player — No. 4 was lost in the grab-your-helmet-and-bat chaos that accompanies opening night at Selma T-Ball. So he never received the precious Skittle.
Thus did the Diamondbacks season begin last week at Shafer Park with the coach’s daughter doling out one final small piece of candy to a lefty-hitting preschooler.
That leadoff batter was my grandson, Joaquin, and he was no more — or less —dazed by the opening game than were most of the Diamondbacks and Blue Jays.
This isn’t baseball as understood by most of us who follow the Grand Old Game. Rather, as an introductory course much like Kindergarten, tee ball is the first sports experience for most of the tykes whose parents bring them to the park on spring and summer evenings.
Batting a ball is a monumental task. A base is a journey, not a destination. Rules and strategy? Wait until Little League for such annoying details.
Selma T-Ball is for 4-to-6 year olds, and just maintaining focus is a major endeavor. On some teams, a batted ball is swarmed upon by a dozen kids, as if they are chasing the scattered innards of a Piñata. On the Diamondbacks, two players raced for the ball while the other 10 stood around and kicked dirt.
I expect — hope, really — that play will improve as the season moves ahead and the Diamondbacks receive more coaching and gain more experience.
While Game Two was less chaotic, it ended when the game’s final batter hit a ground ball and the runner on first base bumped into a fielder. They both went down and just sat in the infield. Game over. Time for snacks.
Much discussion of children’s sports is about parents. We push our kids, yell at them, overschedule them, exploit them for our own gratification.
But this, also, is true: We want the best for our offspring, and we understand that activities such as athletics, arts, camping/hiking/fishing, games/puzzles and other endeavors can teach them concentration, coordination, teamwork, self-sufficiency, problem-solving and love of nature and science. They learn social skills, how to handle success and failure — maybe even how to figure out a path for their lives.
The goal for adults, then, is to make sure what we do is in the best interest of the children, rather than in the best interest of us.
Children need to be guided, coached and nurtured. We are the guides, coaches and nurturers. Except when we aren’t, and that is when it all blows up.
So here’s a shout-out to all the adults who are coaching Selma T-Ball. Let the chaos continue. Let the dirt get kicked, the balls mis-hit, the bases not tagged and the gloves little-used.
Continue to make the game fun, keep things loose and never stop smiling.
And keep those Skittles coming.