Friday, June 01, 2007


The comedian George Carlin used to say about America's two top professional sports, football and baseball, that the first was about warfare - launching offensive drives, air and ground attacts, and throwing bombs whereas baseball was simply about "going home."

Friday afternoon I met a bunch of my students in the grassy field next to the lycee for a game of baseball. With the help of the PE teacher, Phillipe, we scrounged mitts, balls, a bat, and some bases, there was even catcher's gear.

For nearly all of the kids it was their very first exposure to playing the game, so I started them off with a little game of catch, showing them some fundamentals of how to throw a ball and how to use a mitt. Next we played a little pepper just to get the feel for handling a bat and fielding a ball. Our group grew as this progressed. We began attracting interest from kids passing by and pretty soon we had enough for two team. I showed them how to set up the diamond.

I designated myself as the pitcher for both teams just make sure everybody got quality pitches to hit.
The kids were totally into it.

It was the Bad News Bears times ten. Every aspect of the game was a mystery to them. Instead of trying to explain the game, I decided to simply let the unfolding situations dictate which rules or principles I would try to talk about.

The first time a kid hit a pitched ball there was an electric moment, followed by general paralysis both in the batter's box and in the field. Nobody knew what to do.
"Run!" I yelled.
Suddenly everybody ran, the batter ran towards first, the fielders (all of them) pursued the ball, leaving no one on first to throw it to. Lesson number one - the infield put out.

Some of the kids showed some pretty strong instincts for whacking the ball. One of them, a boy who has been something of a pain in the ass all year in class but who really is just a boy with a body that wants to doing something other than sitting at a school desk all day came up the plate and waggled his bat menacingly.

I grooved a pitch to him and he sent it flying. Whereas most of the kids stop at first not knowing if they have permission to advance further, Guillaume kept running.
I could see that it was shaping up as a triple but I decided to see if I could decoy Guillaume. I caught the ball and hid it in my glove as he was arriving into third with his head down. When he looked up, I looked and pointed off into the outfield, hollering, "Go get the ball! Go get the ball!" My teammates looked at me confusedly as if they had done something wrong. Guillaume, whose English isn't so bad immediately understood what I was saying and he began to trot in towards home. As he passed by me I tagged him out and showed him the ball. Guillaume looked at me as if to say, you got me this time. The rest of the kids were unsure.
"Can you do that?" they asked me.
Lesson number two - the Hidden Ball Trick.
Other lessons followed...the unassisted double play, the force out, the tie goes to the runner, and finally, the lesson of foul versus fair balls...which I call the lesson of Staying Alive.
Benoit steps up and promptly sends one of my pitches to the warning track. He's running madly when I yell, "Foul ball!" He is totally nonplussed to learn that his majestic hit counts for nothing except for one strike. I show everyone the imaginary lines defining fair and foul territory. He steps back in and swings and missed at the next pitch.
"Strike two!"
Benoit corrects me. "One strike."
"No, two strikes."
"I only missed one time."
"Foul balls count as strkes. Two strikes."
Benoit considers this rule, shrugs and steps back in. He swings at the next pitch barely fouling it off. Dejected he drops the bat and walks away.
"Come back, Benoit! That's only two strikes."
"No, it's three. You said foul ball is a strike. Three strikes."
"Not on the third strike. Foul balls don't count as strikes on the third out." Suddenly I feel like a tax lawyer trying to explain certain arcane exemptions to a client. I can see that Benoit is not grasping the principle here nor are his teammates who are listening with interest.
"Never mind. Tu es encore vivant. (you're still alive)."
The next pitch Benoit takes to the opposite field, it is curling to the right and it is also headed for a fence belonging to the house bordering the field. I run the baseline and watch it fly over the fence and into the yard. It lands in foul territory but it has curled just inside the imaginary foul pole which I've envisioned on the neighbor's fence.
"It's outta here! You've knocked it out of the park, gone yard, hit the long tater..."
They look at me as if trying to gauge whether that outburst simply adds up to another version of "foul ball".

I make a circle with my right hand and yell, "Home run!"
Benoit begins his cadillac trot around the bases.
Lesson learned.


Anonymous Kristine said...

Kevin, that entire experience is simply awesome. Amazing job!!!!!!!!

1:06 PM  
Blogger kc said...

Great fun...When I think how close we came to getting rained out that day it sobers me to realize how utterly random certain circumstances are and how lucky we need to be sometimes in order to be good.

4:06 PM  
Anonymous Missy said...

That was HILARIOUS! Great post. Thanks, Kevin!

5:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi it's benoit!
You have to know it was very fun to learn baseball with you! I enjoy this moment, which was a real reflection of this great year! even if I didn't understand all the rules at the first time! :)
I would like to congratulate you again for your fabulous performance on last evening and I hope for your american students that this concert was not the last one!
I wish you good holidays since I'll not be able to come at your last class on tuesday because of the terrible "bac"! (music oral test...)
see you on internet asap,

11:03 AM  

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