Friday, March 6, 2009

For love of the game

Jerry Sacharski died this week.

His selfless, ingenious act of love over 60 years ago has impacted as many lives in this country as anyone.

Jerry Sacharski invented T-ball.

In the mid-50's, Jerry helped run the summer baseball program in Albion, Michigan.

"We had all these little guys coming out for summer baseball five years ago," Sacharski told United Press International in 1960, "and just couldn't send them home."

Ever tried to hit a moving round ball with a round bat? At 5 or 6 years old? Or 20 years old? It may be the most difficult athletic feat to accomplish.

Or tried to teach a kid to throw it over the plate? (Rick Ankiel was a major league pitcher and couldn't do it. He is now an outfielder, but that's another story.)

So Jerry, because he loved kids and baseball, fashioned a T out of garden hose and baling wire. And devised a form of baseball that anyone could play.

How many boys and girls have benefitted from this huge heart?

T-ball is such a rite of passage. For kids, parents, and umpires. It is the first organized sport for so many.

Which makes it so much fun. Pure innocence of kids. They don't know which way is first base. They don't know you're not supposed to chase the butterflies. They don't know they're not supposed to run to mommy when the ball gives them a boo-boo. Nobody strikes out. Everybody hits. Nobody cares if there is a score.

First time parents and coaches are another story. I once saw a fistfight break out between a coach and the father of one of the 5 year olds. During a game. Because the kid wasn't playing the position the father wanted.

My oldest kids both umped T-ball for exactly one season. Not a bad gig for 14 year olds. $10 for about 45 minutes of safe and out. Except for the screaming coaches and parents. Both kids said never again.

But anyway, T-ball opened up playing baseball to millions of kids. Kodak owes Jerry a kabillion for all the photos generated. Chuck E. Cheese owes another kabillion for the after game parties.

Rest in peace, gentle giant. Thanks for showing us what love can do.

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