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T-ball days: Youngest ballplayers' minds sometimes wander as parents smile and patiently encourage

The Worthington Area YMCA T-ball program is about teaching little tykes something about baseball. They have a long way to go to be proficient at the game, but at least they have fun.

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Colt Joswiak in the YMCA Tee-ball game for 3-6 year olds makes a break for third base followed by Jaxon Grimmius during the last game of the sezon Thursday evening at Centennial field 07 22 21. (Tim Middagh/The Globe)

WORTHINGTON -- It was the final day of T-ball for little tykes at Worthington’s Centennial Field on Thursday, and one mom sitting on the bleachers in the hot afternoon sun wondered aloud what she’ll do with herself when it’s all over.

Baseball season can keep a family busy throughout a summer. The Worthington Area YMCA caters to young people when school releases them in the spring, and the focus is mostly on teaching. Teaching soccer, teaching tennis, teaching baseball, for instance.

YMCA program coordinator Jordan Balster says teaching 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds T-ball is unlike anything else. For each player, Balster’s job is to stand with them at the tee and help them make contact.

“Standing up there, helping them at the plate, I’ve talked to them about every different thing you can think of,” he explained. “We’re talking about pets, we’re talking about anything they’ve done that day. Whatever’s on their mind.”

Not all of them have baseball on their mind for very long, of course.

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“That’s just the age that they’re at, they’re learning the fundamentals of baseball,” said a coach, Rebecca Brignac.

When they’re not batting, Brignac said, sometimes playing on the sandy infield inspires them. Sometimes they’d rather sit down and play with the sandy agri-lime grains.

“Their attention span is not very long,” she said.

Watching little kids play T-ball, though, is fun for the spectator. On Thursday, one could see a player hit the ball, then spin in a circle before running in an uneven line to first base. The fielders tended to bunch up together at the pitcher’s rubber, because that’s where the ball is usually hit. When it is hit, they all run for it together.

One kid, clearly a budding star, smacked the ball purposely to the first base side. It was a good poke and made it to the outfield grass. He ran hard to first base and slid into it, just for effect.

Many other kids don’t run right away. They seem to want to contemplate their hit, or maybe they just need to be reminded of what to do next.

“Run! Run!,” one mom spoke from the bleachers when her little tyke looked back while taking off. “Don’t look at us. Run!”

Josh and Keeli Iten have three children. Cruz, age 4, is the oldest. And he’s a T-baller.

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“I’m actually surprised at this age how well some of them can hit the ball,” Josh said just minutes before his son’s game was to begin.

Cruz, he said, is a free spirit when he’s in the field.

“He likes to squat way down. You know when the other kids see one do it, they all do it. So there are a bunch of kids sitting with their butt to the ground,” Josh said. “Squatting, I call it.”

Many parents can probably relate to Josh as he ponders whether his 4-year-old will ultimately be a left-hander or a right-hander. At this age, Cruz bats right … and left. He has a left-handed glove, but he almost always puts it on his left hand instead of his right. He throws left, though Mom and Dad are both right-handed.

Josh wonders whether he’ll stay a lefty, or switch, but he’s aware that left-handers’ have a reputation that belies normalcy.

“He’s definitely quirky enough,” Josh points out.

In the summer of 2021, Balster said more than 60 kids signed up to play T-ball in Worthington, which is significantly more than the 25 or so kids who played in COVID-19 year 2020.

“It’s really nice to get the kids back out here,” he said.

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Though the emphasis is on teaching, the kids -- as anyone who has ever watched a T-ball game know -- have their own agenda. Brignac recalls one little girl who enjoyed doing cartwheels in the pitcher’s area, and another who when he hit the ball ran straight to second base.

“You have to remember they’re 3, 4, 5 years old. You want them to have fun, ‘cuz this is their first time playing baseball. If you’re too serious, it ruins it for them,” Brignac said.

“At some point you probably wish they’d focus a little more,” said Josh, thinking of Cruz. “But he’s just 4!”

Balster understands as well as anyone. “There’s only so much we can teach them,” he explains. “But we really want them to get out here and experience the game. Just get ‘em out here moving around and having fun.”

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YMCA Program Coordinator Jordan Balster helps young T-ball players in their warm-ups at Worthington's Centennial Fields. (Tim Middagh/The Globe)

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