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Four All-American Ways to Prepare for Baseball’s Opening Day

Major League Baseball doesn’t get going until April 7th, but our little league players stepped up to the plate this weekend. Of all the sports kids play in our town, America’s pastime has most successfully remained rooted in the neighborhood. The coaches came up in the program when they were kids. Moms and dads dispense hot dogs from the Bat n’ Grill. Players exchange intel on which teams are looking particularly dangerous. Mel (father to league veterans Big Nug and Frankie Baseball) streams the play-by-play (complete with color commentary) for every game. The longtime umpires enforce high standards of play, sportsmanship and dress. All in all it’s an instructive example of how to take a sport seriously without turning it into a dreary, professionalized trudge towards landing a college scholarship.

I hope you, too, are enjoying the start of another promising season. Below are four ways to get the most out of it.

Hit the Ballpark with a Nokona Ballglove

My brother once tried to bring a broom into a Padres game to encourage their impending “sweep” of a four-game series against the Braves. Apparently they don’t allow it. You can still bring a glove, however, and you should: catching those flies barehanded is harder than it looks. Players of all ages and skill-levels swear by the only baseball gloves still 100% made in the USA: Nokona Ballgloves, expertly-crafted in Nocona, Texas since 1934.

Play Catch with a Yardball from Sandlot Goods

The most basic piece of parenting advice I have to impart is to play catch with your kids. You can start them young. It’s a great excuse to talk to each other or not talk at all. And you don’t need any particular athletic talent or skill. Or special equipment: some of my fondest childhood memories are of tossing a Pinky ball around with my father on the beach in Sea Isle City, NJ.

Kansas City-based Sandlot Goods makes their own ball ideal for barehanded catch: the Yardball. Hand-stitched of premium leather, it’s the ideal size and weight for a lazy, extended session of catch.

Play a Game of Wiffle Ball

Wiffle Ball has actual rules, it turns out:

The minimum number of players required to play a game with the WIFFLE ball is two – the pitcher and batter – one player per side. The maximum number of players that can compete are ten – five players to a side. If a full team is playing, each side will consist of a catcher, pitcher, double area fielder, triple area fielder and home run area fielder.

That’s straight from the website of Shelton, CT’s Wiffle Ball, Inc., a third-generation family business that invented the classic backyard game back in 1953. I didn’t grow up playing a strictly orthodox version of the game, but that’s the beauty of it: everyone seems to develop their own idiosyncratic rules and traditions. No better time to start your own tradition than this spring.

Support Your Local Minor League Team

I was a young Phillies fan when they the World Series in 1980; I was fortunate enough to see some of the legends from that team play in person during regular trips to Veterans Stadium (demolished in 2004). But as much as I cherish my memories of Bake McBride, Mike Schmidt, and Tug McGraw, one of my favorite baseball experiences was watching the Lehigh Valley IronPigs with a old friend about a decade ago.

Minor League baseball games are cheaper, have easier parking, and offer superior views of the field. Ben Hill’s invaluable Minor League Ballpark Guide offers a comprehensive and entertaining survey of this underutilized resource. Chances are you have a ballpark (or two) near you. Why not go out and root for the home team?