Wednesday, April 30, 2008

British Bulldog in the USA

On Saturday morning I took Son Number One to a town sports session. Each week, 3-5 year-olds play a different sport, including softball, basketball and lacrosse.

We signed him up a week ago and after we had put his name down I felt like a proper father. I imagined him at 21, world-renowned double champion of lacrosse saying to the reporters, "well it all started when my Dad took me to training when I was four." What a great father. This reverie lasted about three minutes then it occurred to me that all the other children would probably have been playing these sports since they could walk, whereas Son Number One doesn't know a baseball bat from a cricket stump. The other four-year-olds would be like an oiled baseball machine, pitching, batting and catching like professionals. They would chew him up and leave him crushed in the outfield.

I immediately bought a mini-basketball and a T-Ball set and set about drilling him relentlessly. T-Ball is baseball for people who can't throw. The ball is placed on a over sized tee, about two feet high. This way, the batter can learn by hitting a stationary ball. I could have done with the equivalent cricket set when I was a child. Actually, the last time I played cricket I didn't touch the first three balls and that was all the bowler needed to get me out. Luckily, someone hit the ball at me when I was fielding, so I was able to catch him out and make a small contribution to the team. Catching a ball that is speeding towards my face is one of my few sporting abilities.

So last weekend found The Family hitting, catching and throwing baseballs around, with regular breaks for a bit of basketball on the drive. Son Number One showed himself capable of hitting the ball about twenty feet one time in four, which wasn't that much worse than his parents. Even Bagpuss got involved putting a ball on the tee, then prodding it with the bat so it fell off again.

Apart from the tee, we bought an aluminium aluminum bat, a mitt and four balls. The balls are meant to be a little softer than a normal baseball, but they still sting a little when powered off the tee by Il Capo. The bat is surprisingly cool. Even though it's a child's bat it still feels very comfortable in the palms and I found myself swinging it at various imaginary curve-balls, slow-balls and burglars.

So after all this preparation we arrived at the playing fields. We had to walk past the big boys setting up for football soccer. Son Number One is wary of big boys. I don't know if it's a natural feeling or it's something he learnt in the four months at school in England but as we approached he held my hand tightly and pushed himself close to me - which I have to say is one of the best feelings in the world. Nothing beats being Protecto-Dad, especially when the threat is some 11-year-olds playing keepie-uppie.

The 3-5's coach turned out to be a Liverpudlian and instead of a sports baptism by lacrosse, he had the children playing stick-in-the-mud and British Bulldog for an hour, though to be honest there was less blood in the British Bulldog than I remember from my childhood. The only sporting faux pas came when he told us it would be soccer next week and asked Son Number One which football team he supported. Son thought for a couple of seconds then said, "The blue team."

The best quote came while standing on the side-lines during a complicated game of tag that involved children being kangaroos, seaweed, and an octopus. One of the Mummies hearing the coach's Scouse accent, turned to her baby in a buggy and said, "Isn't it great? He sounds just like a Wiggle!"

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