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That’s not the pop of the bat, that’s the mini-Dodgers

They are tethered to this earth in only the most tangential ways. At any moment, they could leap the moon. You have your Dodgers? Well, I have mine. It is like coaching popcorn as it pops.

The mini-Dodgers of the Pinto League are 6 and 7, which means they know almost everything. They know about superheroes and bugs and how, if you blow your nose the wrong way, you could actually die. I had a 10-minute conversation with our second baseman the other day about the dangers of queen moths. I didn’t even know there were queen moths. But if they sting you, you will die.

What these mini-Dodgers don’t know much about is baseball, and they are reluctant to learn. On the basepaths, they keep trying to pass each other up -- tiny NASCARs. As with most men, they are ruled by their own natural impulses, and one of them is to run as fast as you can until you mow down the person in front of you. Sorry, dude.

“Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever pass the guy in front of you,” I tell them during warmups.

“Ever, Coach?”

“Never ever,” says James, our manager.

And still they do. Bunch of punks.

I love them as if they were my own, and for the next month or two they will be. I am part coach, part shrink, part uncle, part scold. Since they are 6- and 7-year-old boys, they have no sense of hearing, not a bit. The only sounds they can identify with any certainty are their mother calling them Christmas morning, or the ding-ding-ding of the ice cream cart.

The other day in the outfield, Valentine was so distracted by the ice cream cart that he literally could not breathe. His knees kept bucking at the very thought of ice cream. The way I think of charred sirloin and a good Cab is the way Valentine thinks of ice cream.

“Watch the game, V,” I’d tell him.

“Coach, he’s LEAVING!” Valentine said, unable to keep his eyes off the ice cream vendor. “He’s LEEEEEEEEEEEAVING!”

They can be as athletic as colts, yet have issues with basic things -- like standing up or thinking. Get two or three of them together, and they begin to pile atop each other as if they won something. It’s like puppies, though the smells are different. They roll around in the spring grass, greening up their knees and elbows…bonding.

Let me just say this about bonding: It is hugely overrated.

“Quit jumping on each other,” I say, forgetting for a moment that they cannot hear.

Batting is a game of “Whack a Mole.” I got clubbed the other day while helping a kid with his swing. No biggie. The pain shot like snake venom up and down the leg, first numbing the abdominal area -- which I rarely use anyway -- then up through the lungs and out my beer hole.

“Gasp,” I gasped.

“Sorry,” said the kid.

“No problem,” I lied.

We’re using a pitching machine this year, which is good. The pitching machine has an ERA of 84.6 in our first five games. The pitching machine gives up so many home runs that it could be the Pittsburgh Pirates’ fifth starter.

Indeed, it is a marvel of modern science, crafted of soft pretzels and discarded Toyota parts. It throws perfect strikes every time, till the battery runs low and the balls fall like wounded quail to the hitter’s toes (usually around the second inning).

At this point, it is a league tradition for three dads to surround the machine and attempt to fix it. Then it will work even worse.

Amish barn raisings, these games. Everybody helps. One dad feeds the pitching machine. One dad stays near the backstop, to help the catcher put his knee guards on 10 times. They fall off. He puts them on. They fall off. He puts them on.

The games last approximately four days, though some have lasted far longer. Over the course of a single six-inning game, babies are born, nations are formed, Madonna dumps three husbands.

“These games go on forever,” one dad notes.

Yeah, and how lucky is that? Mostly in life, good things happen in short staccato bursts, blink and they’re over.

Not these games. These are long, languid affairs -- slices of Americana. They should sell rhubarb pie in the outfield. They should sell U.S. flags at third base.

In the meantime, just look at the kids browning up like biscuits in the spring sun, which hits them square in their rubber-chicken faces. Freckles take over their noses. Gatorade drips down their chins.

No wait. Sorry. Those are the moms.

chris.erskine@latimes.com


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