T-ball gives youngsters a good foundation in America’s pastime

Matty Brown, son of Adam and Katie Brown, eyes the ball as he swings during 4-year-old T-ball in the spring of 2011.

Guided by the thought that it’s never too early to teach youngsters how to play baseball, registration has begun at most area recreation departments for youths as young as 4.

Introductory T-ball, followed by coach-pitch or machine-pitch baseball, gives youngsters a good foundation in America’s pastime. And if you are looking for an entertaining morning, head over to one of the area’s ball fields on a Saturday morning when the T-ball season is under way.

“Over the years, we have come up with T-ball personalities,” said Tim Orvin, the athletic director for St. Andrew’s Parks and Playground. “You have the butterfly chaser. You don’t want to see a butterfly come on the field in a T-ball game.”

The daisy picker, the waver, the dancer, the skipper and the sitter are other personalities. Play often stops if a plane flies overhead or an emergency vehicle passes nearby with its siren blaring.

There are slight variations in the way various recreation departments structure their introductory baseball programs. St. Andrew’s offers an introductory T-ball program for 4-year-olds, regular T-ball for 5- and 6-year-olds and then moves to coach-pitch at 7-8. The North Charleston Recreation Department’s T-ball program is for 4- to 5-year-olds. At 6, 7 and 8, they move to machine pitch.

What are the differences?

In T-ball, youngsters are introduced to hitting a stationary ball that has been placed on a rubber tee in what later will become the strike zone.

“The purpose is to improve the hand-eye coordination,” said Mike Maksim, athletic director for the North Charleston Recreation Department. “We want them to learn to make contact with the baseball, to extend their hands and arms to hit the ball. We teach them to stand in the batter’s box properly.”

Every team member gets a chance to bat each inning, there are no outs and score is not kept. Coaches work with the batters, adjusting the tee to the proper height and placing the ball on the tee. Everyone plays defense as well, with coaches also in the field. Games are usually limited to one hour or three innings, whichever comes first.

The next step after T-ball is coach-pitch, in which a coach pitches to each batter, or machine-pitch.

“We use an electric Jugs (brand name) pitching machine that is set to pitch between 38 and 40 mph. It pitches in the same location almost every time,” Maksim said. “We actually offer machine-pitch all-stars and hosted a regional machine-pitch tournament.”

Umpires are not used in T-ball but become part of the game in coach-pitch or machine-pitch, and players learn the difference between being safe or out.

“Each level has something that gets you closer to the actual game,” Orvin said. “We try to make it fun for everybody. That’s the biggest thing. We want them to come back season after season.”

Registration will be ending soon, so check with your local recreation department if you’re interested in getting your child started in introductory baseball. And don’t be surprised if he or she is a butterfly chaser, a daisy picker or a budding baseball star.

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