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Sports and athletics have become a way of life in American culture. Whether it is baseball, football, basketball, boxing, soccer, tennis or more, it is hard to find someone who is not in some way a fan of a sport or team; but what often is at the forefront is who wins or loses.
For those looking for a sport where neither skill level, the score, or who is victorious is important, then consider attending a tee-ball game.
A recent game between the Joe Cole Recreation team and the Turkey Thicket team at Turkey Thicket in Northeast, D.C. provided much unscripted entertainment. The teams were made up of 5- to 7- year olds with a few 4-year-olds in the mix for good measure.
The players gathered before the game and appeared to be excited about the chance to display their “skills” to their parents and gathering of fans.
The first batter for Joe Cole went to bat and with the instruction of the coach, was finally able to hit the ball off the tee. The ball dribbled about four feet from home plate to the third base side. Suddenly the infield of five Turkey Thicket players all converged on the ball, but no one was able to retrieve it so the entire group scrambled around on an attempt to secure the ball to make a play at first base.
Meanwhile the batter appeared confused as to what to do next. First she sought out her mother, who was behind the backstop cheering her on. Then she found her coach who was imploring her to run to first base. Then after about a minute of indecision, she began the trek to the first base bag.
Finally one of the Turkey Thicket players secured the ball and raced toward the first base to get the runner out. Along the way, his teammates joined in the fray and followed him before there was a domino of them falling on the ground after tripping each other.
Even with some of the clumsy confusion, witnessing the young tee-ballers was truly entertaining.
“We don’t keep scores,” explained Turkey Thicket’s Al “Coach Al” Code, a recreation specialist and roving leader for District of Columbia Parks and Recreation for the past 15 years. “Some of the parents do but the object is to make sure that they all play and learn from the experience and have fun.”
Code has coached tee-ball, basketball and other sports for the past eight years. He admits that there is something special about tee-ball.
“This is their introduction to baseball if they choose to pursue it,” Code told The Informer.
He went on to explain that the games are three innings and everyone gets a chance to get at-bat and a chance to play in the field. He carries as many as 20 players on the roster to accommodate the younger players and those with special needs.
One of the players who is the veteran of the team is Elle Mecca Hill. She has the longest tenure on the team, having started at the age of 5.
“When I first started, I didn’t know what I was doing,” declared the second grader at nearby Mundo Verde School. “But Coach Al showed me things that made me better. I didn’t know that you could raise your leg (when batting). He told me it would make me hit better.”
Muhammad Hill, Elle’s father, said he has witnessed his daughter’s progress since she began playing tee ball a couple years ago.
“Coach Al does a great job with this age group,” Hill said. “There is a lot going on as you can imagine at this age. Elle has really improved during the past two years and she is now more competitive. She started out as a 5-year-old, playing with 6- and 7-year-olds. Now she is the senior. She has taken on the role of big sister for the younger players, showing them things like how to run bases and where to go.”
Silas Grant’s daughter, Mollie, 4, is in her first year of the sport and said that he has seen her benefit from the experience.
“She became interested in baseball through ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame’ on YouTube, so I decided to get her involved in tee-ball,” Grant said. “She was reluctant at first but she befriended Elle and ultimately became more comfortable to see another girl older who was an example.”
Grant added that there are other benefits from Mollie’s participation.
“Since I am not able to see how she acts in a social setting at school, I was curious about how this would play out. She is growing from the social interaction with the players on the team.”
During the game, the team chants, “Hit the ball, hit the ball” to teammates at bat. During the first inning of this game, the team innocently did the chant for the opposing team to which Elle Mecca, told them that they should only do it when their team was at bat.
It is a labor of love for Code. He maintains discipline and structure while at the same time, creates a fun experience. He has a method of making sure they pay attention when he calls on them to go to bat or send them out in the field.
“I love this,” he said with a bright smile. “They come from different backgrounds. This community is diverse. We have whites, Blacks and Hispanics on the team. But when they are out there or in the dugout, there is no difference. They are just learning and having fun.’
During a break between innings, as Code was on his way out of the dugout, one of the players asked him, “Coach Al, do you know how to spell,” and then quickly declared, “I know how to spell, Coach Al.”
This prompted Coach Al to say, laughingly, “You can’t make this up.”
At the end of the game, the players line up and proceed to shake hands. They then group together in the dugout and partake in a post game ritual taught to them by Code, which is called breakdown.
As they leave with their parents, there is no conversation on who won, or what was the final score; Rather It is “Daddy or Mommy, can we go get pizza or go to McDonalds?”.
“That was fun,” declared Elle to her parents as she high fived them.
Elle Mecca Hill and Muhammad Hill are reporter Ed Hill’s granddaughter and son.
We need more stories like this. Many thanks to DPR and Coach Al for providing the children with this opportunity.
This story brought some joy to my morning and I really do appreciate stories like this which is welcomed given the state of the world today. I attended one of these games to see my niece play and I enjoyed every minute of it!
The tee-ballers story (May 17, 2023) is a great inspiration to the Brookland community and DC. I completely enjoyed it. Kudos to the reporter; we need more stories like this, showing the good in the community because there is much to celebrate, especially with our young folks. My niece is cited in this story and she can look forward to sharing her role on the team with her descendants one day. Thanks for making my day by writing this piece.
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