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The rules according to Catharine

THE flyer came from school in early spring: Tee-Ball sign-ups were being taken. I felt I should rush to sign up our kindergartner, many of whose friends would be joining teams. Peter loves nothing better than smacking balls over our roof, and the discipline and instruction he'd receive in this beginner's type of baseball would be good for him. My knowledge of the game is foggy, but there is a sort of T-shaped post on which the ball is placed, and each child in turn gets to swing at the ball until he hits it. There are no outs. With maybe 12 or 13 members on each team, it could take a long time waiting in the outfield, then in line with your team, to have a turn at bat.

I recalled our son's experience the previous fall on the soccer team. Apart from the surprise goal he had scored, my lasting impression of his play on the team was of his seemingly sleeping in the middle of the field. This had occurred in nearly every game, and this tendency to tune out when he was not close to the action made me doubt Peter's ability to be alert through the long waiting spells of a Tee-Ball game.

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As I pondered this, an inspiration struck. I would hire a high-school athlete, of proven skill and Boy Scout character, to coach my son for an hour each week throughout the spring and summer. Peter would learn and practice the fundamentals of a variety of sports, and the equally important lessons to be gained from team play could come later.

Despite my best efforts, however, a suitable high-school athlete was not readily found. All who would qualify were heavily committed to their own heavy spring sports schedules.

Then one day our 12-year-old, freckle-faced neighbor from across the street wandered over to chat with Peter and me in our driveway. Peter was a great admirer of Catharine's; she was always practicing some form of ball in the cul-de-sac, and he had been thrilled whenever she invited him to play catch. I found myself offering her the job of temporary coach, with the understanding it would be until the requisite teen-age ``expert'' could be found.

Catharine's response to my proposal seemed to be a mixture of disbelief and delight. At any rate, she went to her assignment with admirable alacrity. Her half-hour sessions stretched easily to an hour, without request for extra pay. She pitched balls endlessly to Peter, teaching him to catch with a glove, putting up with his ``I already know how to do it's,'' and lecturing him on the fine points of her favorite game -- baseball. She sent him home with a set of 3-by-5 cards on which she had listed the pr inciples she wished him to absorb, adding fervently (as she stressed in her lessons) the great importance of ``consitrating.''

All too soon, Catharine's own involvement with a local baseball team, plus her struggles with the last gasp of schoolwork before the term ended, brought the practice sessions to a halt. Along the way, she kept us informed of her team's progress, which seemed very good. She was obviously devoted to the team -- which was admirable. But I didn't really listen very well.

By the time she became free again, I had finally obtained the name of a high-school boy from the coach and felt I should call him -- but I never did. So the lessons ended.

Shortly after that, a very large headline hit the sports pages of our local newspaper: ``Hipps is big hit in Little League.'' My eyes widened. This was our Catharine! Under her photo it said she was the first girl to make our city's Little League All-Stars. It talked about Catharine in action, ``snagging hot hoppers and sharp line drives,'' and how her fellow male team members' prejudices had melted ``faster than a Popsicle in July.'' During the second half of the season, she had had 18 hit s, and her batting average had been .439.

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How could I help feeling a little foolish? I had never been quite able to let go of my conviction that the Ideal Coach for my son was of a certain age, a certain experience, a certain -- dare I even say it, in this enlightened age -- gender. And all the while this dedicated, unassuming, patient, and serious Peppermint Patty of a girl -- was really All-Star SuperGirl in disguise.

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