This spring, many parents will venture for the first time into the world of organized baseball and softball by registering their child for tee-ball.
So what can they expect?
To find out, we asked Rusty Trudeau, our national baseball and softball account manager. Trudeau coached high-school baseball for nearly two decades before coming to Baden Sports, the parent company of Axe Bat. Last year, he helped his daughter coach his grandson’s tee-ball team.
First, the basics. Tee-ball is an entry-level sport designed to introduce players, usually between the ages of 4 and 6, to baseball and softball. Batters hit off a tee at home plate and run between bases positioned 50 feet apart. Games are usually three or four innings, with time limits often imposed. Parents can expect a season to last about 10 weeks with registration fees in the $60-$80 range.
1. Boys and girls play together. Don’t be surprised if a girl is the star of your son’s team. In tee-ball, boys and girls share the diamond. In fact, the T-Ball USA Association estimates 35 percent of the game’s 2.2 million participants are girls. “At that age, in terms of physical abilities, there is very little difference between boys and girls,” Trudeau said. “If you have a daughter who is interested, sign her up. If she’s athletic, she’s probably going to be better than most of the boys.”
2. Everybody hits and plays the field. Participation is one of the main objectives in tee-ball, so expect everybody to bat and play the field. Positions are loosely defined. Trudeau said it’s common to see groups of three or more players chasing the same ball in the outfield. “If you’ve ever watched little kids play soccer — bunch ball,” Trudeau said. “It can be a lot like that.”
3. The best glove is the cheapest. While tee-ball players need a fielding glove, they don’t need one that costs a lot of money. Trudeau said less expensive gloves are preferable because they tend to be softer and more flexible, giving the child greater control and a better feel for the ball. Besides, he or she will have grown out of it after a year.
4. Your child already owns the necessary footwear. Soccer cleats or tennis shoes work equally well for tee-ball. Don’t waste your money on a new pair of sport-specific cleats, or spikes (yes, Trudeau said he’s seen it).
5. The ball is soft. Tee-ball is played with a safety ball, like this one. It has a sponge rubber center, so it won’t hurt like a standard baseball if your child happens to catch a bad hop or get hit with an errant throw.
6. Don’t expect a final score. The outcome is less important in tee-ball than the process. There are no umpires in the game and like anything involving young children, chaos is never far away. “You’ll hear parents talking about keeping score at the beginning of the year,” Trudeau said. “By the end of the year, nobody will be keeping score. There’s not really a winner or loser in tee-ball.”
7. Fundamentals are the focus. Success in tee-ball is measured in small victories. Teaching kids basic hand-eye coordination. Or how to hold the bat. Or which direction to run after hitting the ball. “You try to teach them why they’re out there playing the game — to run around those three bases, get to home plate and score a run. That’s the first thing,” Trudeau said. “You’ll see kids hit the ball and run to third. Sometimes, they run directly after the ball they’ve just hit. So you have to start with the basics.”
8. Coaches put their best players at first base. If your child shows advanced skill, don’t be surprised if he or she ends up playing first base, not center field or shortstop. “A lot of coaches put their best player at first base so they can actually practice getting outs for the team,” Trudeau said. “They’ll put their second-best player in the pitching area because that’s where the ball goes 90 percent of the time.”
9. The coach wants you to help. Seriously. This might not be the case come high school. But in tee-ball, coaches usually are just the parents who volunteered because nobody else raised a hand. Many don’t have any baseball or softball experience. “As a parent, you are doing the coach a huge favor by showing up and offering to be out there and help,” Trudeau said. “If nothing else, just instructing your own child how to play. There are parents that only come to games, then sit up in the stands and criticize the coach who has been out there babysitting their kid. Get involved. Do something to help if you can.”
Last, a word about bats. There are a lot to choose from, but only the Axe Bat has a handle that is going to help your son or daughter grip the bat correctly every time. Our tee-ball Axe Handle is made smaller to fit perfectly in young hands and will encourage your child to develop a consistent, repeatable grip and swing plane that naturally places his or hands in their most powerful palm-up/palm-down position at contact.
There is simply no better way to set your youngster up for long-term success than by teaching the proper fundamentals from the start. Have fun and good luck this season. We look forward to seeing you at the field.