From my patio on spring and summer evenings, I hear a symphony. At least it is to me. It’s the sound of kids cheering, coaches and parents yelling and the ping of an aluminum bat against a baseball. (Though the latter is a musical note that doesn’t always sound right to ears raised on the tone of a Louisville Slugger.)
Only a few hundred feet behind my house is a City of Huntsville park, and right now the silence coming from there is deafening.
There are dozens of diamonds sitting empty in Huntsville, Madison and Madison County. They’re waiting impatiently for the time players and families can return to baseball and softball play.
Even when it does happen, it’ll be different. Rich Janor, president of Game Day USA, predicts that may facilities will close their bleachers. Families will watch, properly socially distanced, from their own chairs, lining the fences.
For now, what’s a youth league player to do, or what should his or her parents do?
They should do what we’ve already been doing in the pandemic: Get creative.
Getting Back to Basics
If the noise from the nearby park is a symphony, Omar Vizquel was a ballet. He was a graceful, elegant three-time American League All-Star shortstop and 11-time winner of a Gold Glove. (Only Ozzie Smith won more at shortstop, and only seven other players at other positions won more.)
Vizquel took part this week in a webinar provided by The Aspen Institute, which promotes sports and health underneath its massive umbrella as an educational and policies organization. As Vizquel reminded, you don’t always need uniforms and manicured fields.
“We had this game (in Venezuela) hitting caps on bottles,” he said “I know it’s kind of weird because I haven’t seen that game played here in America. We used to collect the caps on all kinds of bottles we’d find and we would throw them to each other. The cap had this movement of going sideways. We used a broomstick to try to hit these caps. It was pretty hard to hit. If you have the opportunity, you should try that with your kids. Obviously, you can’t play this game inside your house.”
The incredible hand-eye coordination that led to those 11 Gold Gloves? It didn’t come from somebody’s dad hammering out a dozen ground balls during infield practice.
“I used to play with my brother and throw the ball as quick as possible with the wall and try to make him drop it,” Vizquel said. “You create hand coordination and eye coordination, and all of those movements I took to the field. … I’ve seen these really cool balls that I didn’t have when I was growing up (the Anywhere Ball and the Incredible Ball). It’s kind of like foam and you get used to using it inside a room and the ball is not going to ruin anything. You can do things inside a small space and still be active.”
At this point, moms everywhere are cringing at the thought of pictures being knocked off walls and plaster being ravaged. But, again, use your imagination and what can work best in your home.
Create a New Game
“There are activities kids can take up to be physically fit and create skills that come in handy when team sports actually return,” said Ruth Katz, Aspen’s health, medicine and society program executive director. “Bike riding and walking are great examples of exercise people can be doing now. Even squats at home or using canned vegetables as weights in your kitchen (are other possibilities).”
But, as always, youth sports parents must be cautioned to walk alongside, and not to push.
“What I’ve found out in all these years working in baseball, if you try to push a kid to do an activity and they don’t want to do it, they start to hate it,” Vizquel said. “Try to get a game where they’re excited about. Don’t win all the time. You’ve got to let the kids win once in a while. That’s important, so they get confidence and keep playing the game. Let them invent a game where you can go along and participate.”
- Play catch in the backyard
- Bounce a ball off a wall or steps to increase hand-eye coordination
- Walk, run or cycle