Lifestyle

Baseball, booze and a send-off

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SO THE Blue Jay Sluggers cap their undefeated season -- no wins, no losses, 14 ties -- with a party in the park. It's a lavish display befitting today's modern athlete: food, gifts and groupies (in this case, the boys' moms).

"Want some lemonade?" one of the parents asks.

"It's not just lemonade," whispers someone else.

"Yeah, don't get too close to a fire," says one of the dads.

And that's how we begin our summer, toasting T-ballers, getting ketchup in our cuticles, sampling the drippy baked beans. For those of you waiting around for the good old days, here's a little tip: These are the good old days.

"Hey, would you like a mai tai?" whispers one of the dads.

OK, it's official. Prohibition is over, and they're celebrating here in this little city park on the outskirts of Los Angeles, celebrating the Sluggers' undefeated T-ball season, sure, but also the fact that the parents survived the last month of graduations, year-end recitals, school plays, spring carnivals, proms, baseball playoffs, hit-a-thons, etc. Each year, it seems, May and June become more like the holidays -- crazy-busy, a strain on the very family life they aim to celebrate.

Thank goodness for the Sluggers, perhaps the tiniest team in all of sports. A team that really knows how to kick back and chill.

Just to recap, T-ball is a vicious little sport played by vicious little men, some of them elves (you can usually pick them out by their chocolate shoes).

Yet, T-ball also represents sports at its finest. Baseball may get bigger, faster, more competent. But it never gets better than this.

As David Letterman described T-ball: "There is some kind of explosion and then everybody runs around. Then they all settle down, and there's another explosion and everybody runs around and it's like this for the whole game."

Certainly, the games are endless. Swing. Miss. Swing. Miss. If only the rest of their childhood proceeded this slowly. Swing. Miss. Thwaaaaaaaack!

"Come on, Adam! Run, Adam, run!"

Our season was so extreme, so full of wonder and joy, chaos and dread, that for the end-of-the-year gift, the parents gave me and my assistant coach cash. I think the message was: "Here, go have a shot and a beer at the tavern of your choosing. Try to forget. And if you can't, there's enough money here for a little therapy."

That's what I took out of it, of course. You'll notice that for a mostly sober man, most of my fantasies involve booze.

Anyway, our season blew by quickly -- like a dream, really. At first, the boys seemed to struggle with the very concept of T-ball -- that they could take a big aluminum stick and strike at something on purpose.

It seemed so counterintuitive. For the greater part of their five years, Mom and Dad had been yelling at them for their violent impulses. Now the boys were being encouraged to smash stuff? What's with that?

But soon, the Blue Jay Sluggers were swinging freely and without remorse. For the most part, they found T-ball liberating. They rarely left the ball field without a juice box and a smile.

And now, three months later, here we are at the park, with a spread befitting a hillbilly wedding, and I mean that in the sweetest sense. Everywhere you look, there are refreshments and comfort food and pretty mothers in summer wear. It's my idea of what heaven might be like.

"Can we play the moms now?" the little guy asks.

This is the game the Blue Jay Sluggers have all been waiting for, a game against their mothers. Smart money is on the moms -- if there's indeed such a thing as smart money (remember Big Brown?).

"Are we home or away?" asks one of the Sluggers.

Home!" shouts another.

As befitting young boys, they are not just quick with questions; they are quick to suggest the answer they want. So when one of the Blue Jay Sluggers poses a question -- What's our per diem? Why do birds poo so much? -- another Slugger will shout out the answer he'd like to hear. It's much the same dynamic you see in the California State Assembly.

"OK, men, we'll hit first," I say.

"We're visitors!" one of the players shouts.

And the Blue Jay Sluggers immediately start to run in little circles going nowhere. That's how they celebrate the beginning of almost every activity, by running in these tiny circles. I think it's how they get their brains started.

"OK, men, Brendan's up first!" I yell.

"Yes!" shouts someone, probably Brendan.

In the field are their mothers, and you can almost read their minds: "We gave birth to this? Is this any way to spend a Sunday afternoon? Are there any baked beans left?"

"Thwaaaaaaaack!" answers Tommy, and the ball skitters into right field.

Go, little Sluggers, go. Honestly, your season isn't over. It's really only beginning.

Reach Chris Erskine at chris.erskine@latimes.com.

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