Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Speed (Part I): The Search for Five Miles per Hour

Maverick: I feel the need…

Maverick & Goose together: the need…for speed!
- from the movie, Top Gun.

Recently, I took my sons to a batting cage. (I know. I know. The season’s over, but this is still fun.) Both Andrew and Christopher enjoy this activity as they get to hit real baseballs without us having to go find them in the woods or the yard next door. (They are both good hitters.) It is particularly important to Andrew, though, as he has never played organized baseball before, but is hoping to do so next spring.

Team sports, though, have always been a problem for Andrew. With my older son’s challenges, he has difficulty adjusting to the speed of a team sport. He has played both organized basketball and organized soccer. In both sports, the kids outrun him. In soccer, this means he has difficulty with challenges from kids. Playing basketball, Andrew has trouble handling some of the quick passes on offense. On defense, he can occasionally make steals or get rebounds and then run down the court, trying for a quick lay-up on a fast break. The farthest he ever gets is the top of the key before some kid on the other team catches up with him.

In baseball, the biggest speed challenge is hitting. At the batting cage, I asked the proprietor how fast the pitches would be for Andrew’s age group (age 10). “Around 45 miles per hour,” he said. So, with Andrew up to the plate, I started slow. I took it to 35 mph and he was fine. I inched it higher and he could still get wood (okay, aluminum) on it. Then, I cranked it up to 40; it was foul balls, some fair, but a lot of good contact. He even hit a beautiful line drive. Unfortunately, for me, I had to barehand it when I realized Christopher had moved from behind the protective screen to better see his brother.

Then I cranked it above 40. He got a few foul balls, as he did his best to make contact.

At 45 mph, Andrew was unable to catch up with it.

Part of me was very happy. I was thinking only five more mph to get up to speed. However, part of me was also sad in that I know that he is past the age where every kid gets to play. He is still slow, a trait he inherited from me. Andrew may get on a team, but he will likely be sitting on the bench. Like all kids, he wants to play, but I am afraid it will discourage his interest in baseball. Also, given his speed, even if puts the ball in play, him running the basepath will mimic a lazy day at the park.

Then, though, I have to look at the positives. If he gets a hit, you won’t be able to wipe the smile off his face. Also, he seems very good at judging ball and strikes. He may actually be cognizant enough to draw walks. He won’t swing at bad balls that I pitch to him at home or bad ones in the cage. When he watches the Braves, Andrew focuses on every pitch. I have watched him strongly argue what he thinks are “incorrect” calls by the umpire. The biggest positive, though, is that he wants to play. And I want him to know the joy of playing baseball.

Therefore, I need to take him back to the batting cage to help him improve his bat speed. Additionally, we will also work at home on improving his fielding skills.

Now, if I only knew how to teach him not to argue with the umpire.

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