Conifers and Thistles As Outfielders

SINCE our children were quite small, we have lived very rurally, first as caretakers of a ranch in northeastern Oregon, then as caretakers up on a mountain of the water inlets for a central Oregon town. Because we have lived so far from schools, our children have been home-schooled. We have had plenty of physical activity just living, so we've never had any sports in our school. Juniper is 13 now, and she wants to learn sports so she can participate with other people when the opportunity arises. Amanda is 11. She isn't as interested, but she's interested enough to be a third member of a team.

We haven't a TV to which I could turn and say, ``See how those guys throw the ball? Watch them awhile and see how they do it.'' Juniper and Amanda have never seen sports.

Juniper asked me, ``Can you teach me what you do know about baseball?''


We bat, catch, throw. We don't run bases. We don't have places for bases. The front lawn is the only level place we have. On the batter's close right is a stone wall. The ridge rises steeply above that wall. The slope above the rock wall is irrigated by sprinklers, and it's lush with grass and clover. A ball smacked up the hillside is easy to field, if someone on the lawn guides the hillside climber to it. In front of the batter is the lawn, 70 feet long and 25 feet wide. The driveway is to the left of the lawn, bordered on its left by a low rock wall, and left of that, a steep drop into the ravine, which is choked with conifers, alders, willows, currants, thistles, nettles, and grass. The ravine is a ball-swallower. We hope the wall will stop what's missed by the fielder, but it often doesn't, and the search is on.

We tried to teach our dog to find the ball. Amanda says, ``He finds it all the time, but he doesn't say anything about it. He doesn't see why it should be any more exciting than ground-squirrel possibilities or the deer scents.''

Down the driveway, which cuts across the head of the ravine, is a bush with tiny, purple fruits. When Juniper slugs the ball past me and Amanda and down the driveway, I say, ``Let's all go get it. I want to show you something.''

They are cautious, as we have taught them to be. ``Are you sure it's a currant bush?''

``Yes. And this is my third day of eating them, and I feel fine.'' We strip the bush of the fruit and then walk back up to our practice area.

Juniper smacked the ball into the ravine. We looked for it for quite a while. We looked again the next morning. Nothing. When we went to town, we bought another ball. $1.79. It isn't a real softball, but it will do for practice.

We come up with ideas. ``Put a beeper in the ball. Then we can follow the sound.''

``I don't think we could put that together just now. I think we just need a lot more practice at stopping the ball before it goes over the wall.''

``Well, we don't have much time to practice, because we're always down in the brush looking for the ball.''

``We could quit trying.''

Juniper said, ``No. I like it. It's more exciting this way than just playing ball. You never know if you're going to find the ball or not. You don't know if you're going to get rubbed by nettles, or if you're going to grab one of the bushes with thorns.''

Amanda said, ``It's a good thing there aren't any poisonous snakes around here.''

I said, ``My thought exactly. Last time I reached down to move the brush around so I could see under it, I ran my face into the top of a small spruce tree that I didn't see, it was in such thick growth. Those needles are sharp but I wouldn't choose to not have had that experience. It's part of the adventure.''

Amanda smacks the ball. She is better and better at catching. More and more often she throws accurately and powerfully.

Juniper asked me to teach her to throw overhand. I threw in slow motion, with exaggerated motions, to communicate what the motion is. ``Throwing right-handed, lean far back to your right, with your arm extended. Bring the ball in your hand in an arc from that low reach, up over your head and down, and release the ball about here, with your upper torso also moving through the arc with the ball, so you throw with your whole body.''

Her motions are deliberate and exaggerated, exactly as I have shown her. She arcs back and forth without releasing the ball. She has understood the arc and is seeking its effective form.

Strange though it looks, when she comes all the way through the arc and releases the ball, it's a streamer and not far from where she meant to put it.

Similarly, Amanda looks almost like she's doing a caricature of taking a batting stance, because she goes through each step, placing each finger, hand, wrist, shoulder, foot, individually, and when she's set, wham.

Juniper is the one who said it, when the ball went down into the ravine again, and the three of us pawed and peered among trees, shrubs, wildflowers, and nettles. She said, ``This isn't baseball we're playing. It's bat and seek.''

``One seventy-nine,'' I said. This is what someone says when the ball begins to seem unfindable. Momentarily, it renews determination in the searchers.

I'm teaching them baseball. We're all learning that it is fruitful to incorporate the distractions and interruptions into the game. It expands into adventures I wouldn't have thought were included in baseball. Excuse me. I mean bat and seek.

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