Cody Little League's coach pitch is the level where baseball starts getting a little more serious.
But not serious enough to prevent a black market for Spitz from developing, anyway.
When not on the field, the players, ages 6-8, developed a vigorous trade in sunflower seeds with minor league on the other side of the fence. Ranch for dill pickle. Salted caramel for cracked pepper. The trades went back and forth like the lead of a close game.
It was a Tuesday night, and the Angels were squaring up against the Cubs.
One at a time, each player would step up to the plate and take a swing, or a lot of swings, at pitches from their coach. The hits rarely went far, but the players usually connected. For most of the players in the league batting is the best part of any game.
“I wish I could swing and hit the top of Heart Mountain,” said one of the Angels players awaiting his turn at the plate.
The mountain makes a fitting target, standing far to the north of the fields. Players on deck often smack the ground with their bats and take practice swings.
“I like that I hit really far,” said Everleigh Henry, 7, of the Cubs.
Still, not everyone’s a fan.
“It’s so hot I can barely see,” said Sam Mong, 6, on his way to the plate.
When teams take to the field, boredom can get the better of outfielders, one of whom was cart-wheeling across the lawn during a slow stretch. Another just took a seat and watched.
When a hit was made, the scramble was on. Runners bolted for the next base and fielders raced for the loose ball. This almost caused problems for one Angels runner, who had left his spot at third base to talk with his coach.
For most, first base or pitcher are arguably the most popular positions to play.
“First base is my favorite,” said Ryan Rosencranse, 7, of the Cubs. “Everyone throws it to you and you try to get the runner out.”
One Oriole player said he liked playing pitcher because you get more attention.
During games most players rotate to different positions every inning, ensuring that every member of the team gets a chance to play the fun positions, and the less fun ones like catcher.
Numerous stances are seen behind the plate, with one knee on the ground, both knees on the ground or just sitting down. And despite the job title, not much catching was done. Generally, pitches smacked a knee pad, ricocheted off the front of the catcher’s mask, or just skittered between the cleats.
Beyond the action on the field, the evening’s game offered plenty of entertainment. Family and friends of the players sat on the bleachers to take it all in. On the hillside behind the seats, younger siblings, and players waiting to take the field for the next game ran back and forth among the clumps of grass.
In the dugout, sunflower seeds were often the big focus, with some competing to see how far they could spit the seeds. One particularly overaggressive spitter was met with,“You know somebody has to clean this concrete, right?”
When all was said and done, the players met at home plate for handshakes and congratulations.
“We just want to work on the fundamentals,” Angels coach Ron Kingston said. “We also start to bring in some of the concepts of the game.”
Kingston and his fellow coaches see a great deal of improvement over the course of the year. Much effort is put into making sure the players know what to do when they wind up with the ball. Still, the primary goal is not winning or losing, but learning.
“We want them to have fun so they come back next year,” Rockies Coach Justin Lundvall said.