ISHPEMING - One way to describe watching 4 and 5-year-olds playing T-ball is organized chaos.
Every time a batter hits the ball, all the kids run at the same time to catch it. This can sometimes cause a pileup or even hurt feelings.
But for the kids, each day of play - no matter how chaotic - can provide valuable experiences.
Kina Salmela, 4, hits the ball off the tee during T-ball practice at the Ishpeming Little League Complex. (Journal photo by Danielle Lehto)
At a recent match, Faith Cain, 4, dove to get the ball but was too late. Through her tears, she yelled to her mother on the bleachers, "Mom, I didn't catch it."
"That's OK, try again," her mom replied.
A small T-ball lesson learned.
The Ishpeming Little League T-ball season started June 8 and runs until July 1. Players are drawn from the Ishpeming, NICE, and Republic-Michigamme school districts and range from age 4 to 6. The kids are broken up into classes, and each class plays twice a week for five weeks.
The game is a simplified version of baseball without a pitcher. Instead, the kids hit the ball off a tee.
"We teach them how to catch and throw and hit, and run the bases because they don't know how to do it," said T-ball coach Toni Clisch.
The young players are still learning the basic skills of the game, Clisch said. The goal of Ishpeming T-ball is to teach players those fundamentals but, more importantly, to teach them sportsmanship and teamwork. The program stresses the importance of focusing on having fun and learning new skills, not so much on the competition.
"It's all about having fun at this age, without having to care about winning or losing," says Addy Cain, mother of player Faith Cain. "She learns sportsmanship, and the social interaction with the other kids is important, and teamwork, that's a big one."
Clisch said she can see a marked difference in the kids' social skills from the beginning to the end of the five- week season.
"In the beginning, a lot of kids are really shy but by the end of the five weeks they're yelling and running for the ball," she said.
Clisch decided to get involved with coaching when she volunteered with Big Brothers/Big Sisters. She's played softball since she was 8 years old. Now an 18-year-old graduate from Westwood High School, she said she feels she's able to pass on some of her knowledge to the young players through T-ball.
In fact, she said, coaching has helped build her own skills, too.
"It's good for us - to learn to be patient," she said.
On top of skill building, T-ball is a great way to get kids outdoors for some regular exercise. Cain, who is also a longtime baseball and softball player, said she feels it's important to get kids involved and keep them busy at a young age.
"It's very important to keep them going," she said.
The parents get a lot out of the activity, too. Watching little kids play T-ball is long on entertainment value. They follow each other, mimic each other and hug each other when they need a shoulder to cry on.
Jillian Sollid, 4, wore a baseball cap with Disney's Ariel on it, along with a pink shirt covered with Disney princesses and dirt. After practice, when asked if she liked to play T-ball, she said she'd "play baseball when I grow up big - big like a giant," as she gestured with her hands above her head.
With that, she grabbed her pink and purple mitt off the ground and ran to her smiling mom, ready to call it a day.
Danielle Lehto can be reached at 906-228-2500.