Where it all begins: T-ball at Camp Zama

Steven Padgett, right, acting coach of the Camp Zama T-ball team, and Kaiden Pollard, a player, discuss batting during a game at Camp Zama May 18. (Photo Credit: Wendy Brown, U.S. Army Garrison Japan Public Affairs)
Steven Padgett, right, acting coach of the Camp Zama T-ball team, and Kaiden Pollard, a player, discuss batting during a game at Camp Zama May 18. (Photo Credit: Wendy Brown, U.S. Army Garrison Japan Public Affairs)

Where it all begins: T-ball at Camp Zama

by Wendy Brown
U.S. Army

CAMP ZAMA, Japan (May 22, 2019) -- It was an Army versus Navy game, but not a soul present cared about the score. In fact, no one kept it.

"It's more about having fun and learning the basic skills," said Bryant Davidson, assistant director of Camp Zama Youth Sports, about the T-ball program that teaches 5- and 6-year-olds the fundamentals of baseball and softball.

During this game at Camp Zama May 18, Camp Zama and Naval Air Facility Atsugi players showed off the considerable skills they'd gained in the five weeks they'd been playing.

T-ball gets its name from the tee stand that holds the ball still for batters to hit it, and after slight adjustments to their batting stances, most batters hit the ball with confidence. Likewise, in the field, they often stopped balls before they got far, and if they didn't, players backed each other up and contained the ball in the infield, taking care not to throw wildly into the outfield.

Carter Nelson, 6, a player on the Camp Zama team, said he has had fun learning the sport.

"I really like to hit the ball on the tee and I like to like to grab the ball on the ground," Carter said.

His teammate Leo Morris, 6, agreed.

"I think it's really fun and I want to practice a lot," Leo said, adding that he likes catching the most.

Brad Nelson, Carter's father, said he played T-ball as a child and went on to play baseball through high school.

"(T-ball) really helps with understanding how teamwork works and understanding hand-eye coordination," Nelson said. "It's fun for all of them on the weekends to get together and do something that's not the norm."

Not only do the players have fun, the parents enjoy watching them play as well, Nelson said.

Steven Padgett, whose son Hunter, 6, plays on the team, served as fill-in coach during the game and said that in addition to hand-eye coordination and teamwork, T-ball on military installations helps families connect with one another.

"We just PCSed here, and lot of other families PCSed here, so it kind of gets them (working on) their social skills and just brings other military families that go through the same thing together," Padgett said. "PCS" is a military term short for "permanent change of station," or move.

The players, including his son, have improved considerably over the course of the season, Padgett said.

"Hunter has improved because he continues to play sports throughout the year, and so we just see him listen better," Padgett said. "He behaves better with other kids he interacts, he's more social, his hand-eye coordination has gone up, and he's just all-around more active."

Davidson said the T-ball teams, which include one Camp Zama team and two Atsugi teams, have one game a week and practice twice a week. The season is seven weeks long.

In addition to the no-score rule, there are no outs, and every batter bats every inning, Davidson said. The games have no set number of innings, but rules limit the time to 45 minutes.

The next level up, for 7- and 8-year-olds, is coach-pitched baseball, and the following year, when children are 9 or 10 years old, they can sign up for baseball or softball, Davidson said. Score keeping starts at the baseball and softball level.

Brandon Bergeron, director of Camp Zama Youth Sports and Fitness, said T-ball is one of many sports the program offers throughout the year.

"As young as 3 and as old as 18, we've got something for everybody, and we really don't take a break, so there's always something going on," Bergeron said.

The program is also always looking for coaches, Bergeron said, and it's not necessary to have previous experience; the program provides training.

For more information on the program or coaching, visit https://zama.armymwr.com/programs/youth-sports.

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