As much as watching your child play tee ball feels like a rite a passage, watching him (or her!) make the transition from hitting off a tee to a pitched ball can feel daunting. Especially if you’re a parent like me, who doesn’t do a very good job of getting my son to the backyard to practice. My 6-year-old Wade thinks Mom is way too bossy as a “coach,” and he’s probably right.
That’s why I feel so fortunate that we happened to be enrolled in Dilworth Little League when the decision was made to add a “coach pitch” division last spring. So rather than jumping from tee ball straight to machine pitch this fall, Wade got to play coach pitch. That means instead of trying to hit a ball pitched by a machine and turning around to sit down in the dugout if he doesn’t, Wade gets four tries to hit a ball thrown by one of his coaches. And if he doesn’t connect, he can hit off the tee.
“What we found was machine pitch was a bad experience at that age,” Dilworth Little League commissioner Chris Pineno told me one recent Saturday morning, while we were both working the concession stand at Freedom Park. “We need it to be fun. And that wasn’t fun.”
What we’ve watched in coach pitch this fall season has been so much fun. Because each player has a great chance to put the ball in play – whether it’s off a coach pitching from one knee or the tee – there has been so much action in the field. The kids are developing their defense while they’re learning to hit.
After three seasons of playing tee ball with our Pike Properties friends (spring and fall, 2021 and spring of 2022), this has been our first experience with a score being kept, outs being counted, catcher’s gear (more for protection than catching. LOL) and having an umpire. He doesn’t call balls and strikes but rules on whether plays are safe or out and helps keep the game moving. Surprisingly, the pace of play isn’t bad either. Coaches start each at-bat with a bunch of balls at hand and fire them in there pretty quickly.
The game really came alive this fall thanks to all the action, strategy, and work put in by our four amazingly dedicated volunteer coaches. As I told my mom before she came to watch Wade for the first time: it’s like a real game!
But the rules are still set up so feelings don’t get too hurt or scores too lopsided. An inning lasts only as long as it takes a team to score five runs or the opponent to get three outs. So when outs are hard to come by, the game doesn’t run off the rails. At this age, the best bet for an out is often fielding a ball and running to the nearest base, rather than throwing it there. But it’s fun to see the progression these boys have made on defense when they do throw and catch for outs.
Heck, just learning to keep up with the number of outs, which base the play is to and where throws should go is progress. The coaches stay on the field and help with that, which is so endearing. The game is still for little kiddos and it’s still sweet.
One of my favorite things this season has been watching one boy on our team who loves to slide after he crosses home plate. There’s still plenty of funny stuff to keep parents and spectators entertained, like the time a little boy for an opposing team forgot to bring a bat with him to the plate!
With more action, parents also have more to cheer for, so our kids actually play with a little more pressure, which I think has added to the learning experience. I got a taste of that feeling myself, when our coaches invited parents to play a wiffleball game against our kids to make the last practice extra fun. I got a little nervous playing in front of everybody!
The most nervous I was all season, though, was watching Wade walk to the plate for his first at-bat against coach pitching. I wanted so badly for him to do well and have something positive to build on, and it hadn’t come very easy for him in practice. But on that Thursday night at Freedom Park, four pitches into his first at-bat, Wade got a hit. He got two more in two more trips to the plate. He walked off with the game ball from his coach that night. He (and his mama) were so happy and proud.
After another game or two like that, Wade confessed to me on a car ride home: “Mom, I didn’t think I was going to be able to hit the ball without a tee.”
Look at him now! He still needs the tee every once in a while, and that’s totally fine. He’s off and running….and most importantly, he’s still having fun playing baseball.
Today is the last day of Dilworth’s fall season but registration for the spring season starts in January. Teams will be assembled in early March with play continuing past Memorial Day weekend for the older divisions. To be eligible for Dilworth Little League, players must live inside the league’s boundary or attend an elementary, middle or high school within the boundary. Dilworth Little League is always eager to find volunteer coaches. For more information about coaching click here.
Dilworth Youth Sports Association
P.O. Box 12131
Charlotte, NC 28220