Backyard Baseball Fun
Pass the Ball: Baby and Toddler Activities
While the older kids are busy with baseball, introduce your little one to balls. Designate a sturdy container to be his “ball box” and collect a variety of balls to store here, such as rubber balls, plastic wiffle balls, foam balls, small rubber footballs, a soft-sided baseball, etc. Let your child play with the balls and encourage him to throw the balls to you as if he is a little pitcher. Simple but fun, roll a ball to your baby; he will enjoy sitting straddle-legged across from you as you roll the ball back and forth. Brothers and sisters can enjoy this game, too.
Play ball toss with baby’s favorite blanket. Spread the blanket on the floor and place a rubber ball in the middle of the blanket. Show your little one how to hold onto two corners of the blanket while you hold onto the other two. Lift the blanket off the floor, toss the ball up in the air, and catch it with the blanket—you’re likely to get giggles and grins when you play this game. End playtime with a fun verse you can teach to your child.
A little ball,
A bigger ball,
A great big ball I see!
Now let’s count them.
Are you ready?
One, two, three!
What’s not to love about a sport where you can sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh inning stretch or snag a bag of peanuts tossed by a vendor in the stands? No wonder baseball is considered America’s national pastime—it’s one of the most relaxing and enjoyable games to watch, and great family fun!
Seeing a game in the big leagues can be big entertainment—but if you’ve got little kids with short attention spans, expensive tickets to major league games can be a risky proposition. Try looking for a minor league team, college or high school baseball games, or even your local little league for an afternoon of baseball fever. On the other hand, if you dream of warm-up drills and Ball Park franks on the grill, it’s time for a neighborhood ballgame. Start by gathering the kids and heading to your backyard or a local park. Play a little catch, pepper and pickle, but keep in mind that it is game time the kids really crave.
Beginning Baseball Fever: Fun for Preschoolers and Older Children
To become proficient in baseball, practicing drills helps kids develop the skills. According to Kirby Puckett in his book, Kirby Puckett’s Baseball Games, “I always wanted to excel in all parts of the game, so when I found something I couldn’t do, it made me want to work harder. I still do drills every day, and you should, too. That’s the only way you can get better.” Try these fun drills to get started:
- Wiffle Ball is an old-time favorite that uses a lightweight plastic ball with holes in it. As few as two kids can play just fine in a small backyard or in the park—provided they know the following time-honored sandlot rules. There is no base running. Instead, hits are determined by how far the ball flies—past the pitcher is a single, over that bush a double, and so on. Use “invisible men” to stand in for base runners, advancing them after each hit. The batter calls out the situation (“Runners on first and second, one out”) before each at bat. Use a target, such as a lawn chair or a square drawn on a wall, to call strikes. If the pitcher hits the target, it’s a strike; if not, it’s a ball. Have a home run fence, if only for the ecstasy of watching the Wiffle ball slowly sail over it.
- How about playing Pickle? To play this monkey-in-the-middle game, two fielders throw a ball back and forth from their bases while a runner attempts to steal a base. After three outs, rotate positions.
- The game of Pepper requires two or more fielders to spread out in a line facing a batter, about 15 feet away. One fielder should toss the ball to the batter, who in turn hits it to a different fielder. The object is to continue without interruption tossing, hitting, and fielding. Players rotate positions every ten swings or so.
- The old standard Catch and Throw has players form two lines and face each other about 20 feet apart. To limber up, they toss the ball lightly between partners. Every few minutes, players should back up a step to build throwing strength and sharpen accuracy.
Once the drills are finished and everyone is warmed up, it’s time to “play ball.”
Beginning Baseball Fever: Fun for Preschoolers and Older Children
It’s never too early to instill the love of baseball. For the young preschooler, it’s easy to hit the ball from a stand made especially for her from household recyclables. Fill the center of an old tire with cement. Place the handle of a plunger in the cement. Let your child place the ball in the upside-down plunger and hit it with a bat. Use a larger soft ball for the younger set to prevent bumps and bruises. Play some games that reinforce the basics; start with running the bases in order. Have the kids yell the base number when they hit it and just go all the way around.
Another fun game is called bottle catch. Ask an adult to carefully cut off the bottom half of a plastic milk jug (a half-gallon jug will do). Now turn the jug top upside down and hold it in one hand. Toss the ball up in the air. Try to catch it in your bottle catcher. Toss it higher each time. As the ball hits the bottle, bring your hand down gently. If you move the bottle catcher in the same direction that the ball is going, the ball is less likely to bounce out of it. Cut another bottle and have a friend play catch with you. Score one point for each catch you make. Play until someone collects 11 points.
Ball Park Munchies
Outdoor play and baseball fun can sure bring on an appetite! Go to the kitchen and have the kids make this Grand Slam Trail Mix for a satisfying snack. You’ll need: pretzel sticks (bats), mini-marshmallows (baseballs), and bite-size shredded wheat cereal pieces (bases). Combine the ingredients in a large bowl and serve this mixture in paper cups or in plastic sandwich bags.
Refresh with Slugger Strawberry Slush by placing a one-pound bag of frozen strawberries in syrup along with two cups of apple juice and about 16 ice cubes into a blender. Puree at high speed until the mixture turns slushy. Pour the drink into plastic sports cups and serve. Yum!
While we’ve offered plenty of great ideas for kids, don’t forget that parents can join in too! Why not get the whole line-up—your family—out on your backyard field and make some special memories. While a game of catch is simple on the surface, it’s something ordinary yet meaningful that you and your kids will always remember, as evidenced by Kevin Costner’s character Ray in the movie Field of Dreams. “Hey . . . Dad? You wanna have a catch?”
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