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Don't let the high grass mess with parent's dreams

Son was ready for everything to make sparkling debut -- almost.

Healdsburg moms and dads just need to make sure to mow the field before you kid's first tee ball game.

I remembered everything else before my oldest son made his team sports' debut. He was 5 years old and had long graduated from hitting a stationary ball off a tee to hitting pitches I tossed to him.

Given his desire to play catch and learn to throw accurately, he had really positioned himself to make a big splash in his first tee ball game.

Well, OK, he was just anxious to get out there with his friends and teammates. His old man was anxious to see the little guy hit, field, throw and run the bases to what I hoped would be the universal acclaim from other parents.

No parents in Healdsburg are envisioning that sort of experience as tee ball and Little League seasons near, are there?

I suffered through the painful process of helping coach that tee ball team. The biggest coaching victory of the practice season came when I convinced little Katie Iversen to wear her glove on her left hand, because she'd need her right hand free to throw the ball.

It was worth it, though, because I wanted to be close to my son -- so I could unleash a monster on the tee ball world.

I was a 29-year-old dad and, boy, was I anxious to have my 5-year-old son shine, then accept congratulations all around. Me ... I'd be accepting those congratulations for teaching him to play the game.

My son and I only played baseball together when he wanted to play. We played every single day on the backyard diamond where he'd worn out the grass running around bases I'd thrown down. So, I wasn't the maniacal dad who pushed his kid to learn the game quickly. He enjoyed baseball and ached to be on a team, so I knew I'd be in line for praise when he finally played on a team.

My son was truly excited on the day of his first game.

Folks who think that first team or that first game don't mean anything, or will be soon forgotten, should be advised that my began a lifelong friendship with two of tee ball mates.

My son wound up being a football quarterback from age 8 through college. The kid who played center on all of his football teams from age 8 through high school was on that first tee ball team.

One of the boys on that tee ball team grew up to become a star on the No. 1-ranked small school baseball team in the state -- when he and my son were seniors. They formed an all-league 1-2 pitching combination.

Healdsburg parents are preparing for the first game. They're getting ready to smile humbly when the other parents smile and say, "Boy, oh, boy! That kid you have is really good player!"

Just make sure that everything is in order, OK?. Everything.

My son grabbed his bat and strolled casually toward the tee for his first at-bat on a foggy afternoon, wind blowing out to right field. He was relaxed. I was nervous.

You know that "nervous wreck" who over-coaches, shouts way too much advice for any kid to use in competition? Yeah, that was me nearly three decades ago.

"Keep your eye on the ball!"

"Level swing!"

"Don't swing too hard!"

"Take a short stride!"

The kid was five years old and had never played in front of people before. Healdsburg parents should remember that about their kids this spring.

My son could, however, swing that tiny metal bat.

His first swing resulted in a smashing a line drive over the tiny second baseman's head, into an open space in the outfield.

Just what I expected. I immediately thought, "Home run!"

We had practiced running the bases, but running the bases in tee ball didn't require particularly advanced skills. Baserunning really only required knowing where the bags were located.

My son watched the flight of his line drive as he raced to first base. He was flying! I was soaring.

"Home run! Run! Go! Go!"

Then, he hit first base with his right foot and, inexplicably, veered only slightly left and started running toward ... well ... right-center field. What happened to that sharp turn and dash toward second base?

My son had no idea where to find second base because it was hidden by tall grass. So, he headed off to find it while defenders tracked down his well struck ball.

"Turn left! Turn left! Go to second base!"

Kids were rushing toward the ball and my son was running in circles in short right field. The field hadn't been mowed and the second base bag was hidden. He couldn't see the bag so, he was running and looking for it while I stopped shouting. "Home run!" and wondered if the defenders might not get the ball and tag him out.

Finally, his mom shouted, "Just go back to first base!" And, he did. His first at-bat was a 200-foot drive for ... a single.

When he finally got back to the team area by the backstop, I asked, "What happened?"

My son said, "I couldn't find second base..."

So, dad, make sure the infield grass is mowed before the first tee ball game.

(Healdsburg Patch.com sports editor Ted Sillanpaa has long been involved in youth sports as a player, a coach and a parent who has seen it all.)

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