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This is baseball, innocent and pure

The key hit might have been Charlie Fields bases-loaded line single past the Mets' third baseman, who was checking to see whether his cap, tucked in from the back but still loose, would stay on his head. Two runs scored for the Sox.

If that hit produced the game-winning RBI, no such statistic was recorded. If the inattentive third baseman had cost the Mets the game, no one seemed to care. What mattered now was free large sodas were being served to all the players.

Neither manager spoke of the Fields hit as the game's turning point. For goodness sakes, nobody even had kept a book. No one knew the score.

Baseball, innocent and pure.

What a game.

The Azalea Little League T-ball league (ages 6-8), which finished its season this past Saturday, was a teaching situation above all else. Coaches could walk the field and tell players what to watch out for, how to deal with certain situations, where to throw the ball. Players could always turn to them for help.

It was baseball in baby steps, with no harsh words and lots of encouragement for small accomplishments: i.e., returning the ball to the pitcher, running to the right base, playing for a forceout, and staying focused on the game.

"You see a lot of improvement with them throughout the year," said Brian Canavan, 32, the Mets manager. "And, then it kind of goes up and down. Sometimes my team will be playing great, the next time we play it kind of goes downhill. But you see some good moments out there."

Canavan said most of his players didn't know how to throw a ball _ and certainly they couldn't catch a thrown ball _ before this spring.

"There was so much we had to teach them," he said. "That first base is over there. How to throw the ball.

"You think it's a simple game, but when you get down to teaching a 6-year-old kid who's never played before, there's really a lot of stuff for them to learn."

Take the force play at second, Sox manager Dane DiSano, 43, said.

"I think they finally understand that," he said. "You would go up to them and say, "Now, get the force at second.' And then they wouldn't do it. So, I'd say, "But I told you you had a force at second.' And they would say, "What does that mean?'

"

Other lingo also tripped up the youngsters.

"I had one kid who hit the ball but was put out," DiSano said, "and he was kind of sad that he was put out. I said, "Don't feel bad, you knocked in two runs.' He said, "What do you mean I knocked in two runs?'

"

"They see it all as individual accomplishments at first, but then later on I think they start to see where they're contributing to the rest of the team," Canavan said.

Occasionally, there is a miraculous play. Such was the case earlier in the season for Danielle Gaudet. She was playing second base and a fly ball found its way securely into her glove. She spun around at the right time and tagged the runner going from first to second.

An unassisted double play.

"In my mind, I like to think she knew what she was doing," said Jeff Gaudet, Danielle's father and a Sox assistant coach.

The Azalea T-ball league played about 20 games, said DiSano, who coached his daughter Dana. The league opened by using a tee for the ball, to make it easier for batters, but in the end managers were pitching to their teams. Games were limited to four innings because of the youths' attention spans and time constraints on a field with no lights.

"As the season progressed, I thought they would get bored and it would get more and more difficult to keep their attention," DiSano said. "But it's been just the opposite. They were kind of bored initially because they really didn't know what they were doing. But now that they have an understanding, I think this team could play five innings without getting too bored."

Gaudet, 38, said his daughter's interest increased as the season progressed.

"In the beginning she didn't want to do this," he said. "But now at the end she wants to do it more than I do."

Less than a dozen steps from the T-ball field, two Azalea senior league teams also were finishing their seasons on Saturday.

One player who had been hit by a pitch warned the pitcher and threatened to charge the mound. Umpires positioned themselves between the players to prevent that from happening.

A manager berated one of his players.

Players threw helmets, and one frustrated hitter flung his bat into the dugout wall.

Four-letter words drifted to the field a dozen steps away, but a world of difference away.

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