Copyright© 2016 by Ernest Bywater
Mo loves playing squash from the first moment he can run with a racquet in his hand. It’s the ‘most perfect of games’ for him because he can run as hard as he likes and hit the ball as hard as he wants to in any direction, plus, best of all, he plays it with his mother and father. When playing it’s just Mo and Alice or Mo and Randy, and he has their full attention. With age comes better control and the application of the usual game rules. The rules place restrictions on where and when he can hit the ball thus making the game harder, but it’s still a lot of fun for Mo. Alice and Mo often have long rallies together. Playing squash builds Mo’s muscles by running and hitting while also improving his eye-hand co-ordination. Mo is an accomplished player despite not participating in competitions. For the Walker family squash isn’t a competitive sport as it’s a fun way to exercise together as a family. They stop playing in the last month of Alice’s illness because she can’t play. Mo and Randy don’t start playing again until early April. But the skills are still with Randy and Mo so they soon get back to their usual hard and fast game.
The good point about playing squash is the skills transfer to other games like basketball, soccer, and baseball. All require the players to watch the ball to track its movement then co-ordinate their action on the ball. The ability to track the small squash ball and quickly get into its path is very useful in fielding the larger baseball. Ball tracking is also a good skill when batting. However, as of the time Mo goes to his first baseball camp all he’s done is fielding and tossing the ball. During that period of learning he didn’t bat, run bases, or pitch because that’s where the team players needed their practice so Mo only fielded for them.
A couple of the players from the team Mo helped with fielding are also at the first camp, so while they wait around after signing in they join in a scratch game the coaching staff have going to keep the kids busy. Naturally, Mo gets out his glove and he starts fielding while others take turns to bat and pitch. One of the coaches notices Mo doesn’t field the way he should. Because of the way the team coach ran the practices Mo wasn’t taught how to field a position, just to field the ball. Thus he goes for every ball in the area he’s covering, which is part of left field, the shortstop position, and part of the second baseman’s area.
Mo is fast to cover the ground, reach the ball, catch it or scoop it up off the ground, and to throw it to the most appropriate base. Often this is first base, but he throws to third or home when appropriate to get the runner out. On seeing how much field Mo is covering a coach walks out to talk to him about it. While waiting for the next batter the coach asks, “Who are you? And why do you leave your position so much?”
Stunned by the second question Mo takes a moment to respond. A glance at the mound, a moment for the pitch, a foul, and he says, “I’m Mo Walker. I don’t know what you mean about position. Until a couple of months ago I’d never seen a live baseball game. I’ve been helping out a team by fielding for them while they practice their batting. Since we only had a few fielders during the extra practices I try to cover the gaps left by the players unable to get there. All I’ve been taught is to how to catch, scoop up a ground ball, decide where to throw to, and to throw the ball to the person on the base. I’m here to learn how to play baseball properly. I’m also signed up for the two other camps in the area to learn all I can.”
“Well, if you’re going to all three camps maybe we should have you concentrate on a couple of skills in each camp. For this camp let’s look at making sure you learn how to field properly in every position as well as the basic game rules. That OK with you?”
“Sure thing, Coach. You’re the coach and I’m here to learn.”
For the rest of the camp they teach Mo how to play every position on the field. They do give him some basics on batting, base running, and pitching, but the main effort is on understanding and performing well at each fielding position. They learn Mo can work any position, but he’s best at shortstop, left field, or second base due to his early training.
The head coach speaks to the head coach of the other camp about Mo and he passes along all he knows. Along with a request to teach him all they can about hitting, bunting, and base running because their camp has a couple of retired pros who were top batters in their day. By the end of that camp Mo is an accomplished batter and base runner.
The third camp is run by the same coaches as the first camp. They have two in the area to give people a better chance to attend one of their camps because they know some of the kids go away to holiday camps in early summer and some go away to holiday camps in late summer. Thus they offer a baseball camp in each time period. It also allows those who don’t go away a chance to attend both of their camps
Mo is happy to concentrate on pitching at this camp. The head coach has a friend in to help out, a pitcher for one of the Major League teams. Once Mo has the basics of pitching he’s put in with the advanced group to learn from the professional pitcher. Although Mo is learning to play baseball most of the skills are ones he already has, but he has to learn how to best apply them in this game. Swinging the bat to hit the ball in baseball is different to hitting the ball in cricket, but the basic skills to keep an eye on the ball and get the bat in front of it are the same. This is also true of pitching. The motion is different to bowling in cricket, but the basics of handling the ball to get a desired effect is much the same, just a different arm motion and release. Thus Mo is able to quickly be proficient in pitching. The pro pitcher is surprised about how fast Mo picks up on pitching a variety of balls and why it’s a good idea. By the end of the camp Mo has a good command of several pitches. He has a good fast ball, but not a real ‘hot’ fast ball. Several of the other kids can pitch a fast ball with more speed than Mo can, but none of them can get the amount of movement out of the ball he can, even with his fast ball. However, Mo does use a modified throw due to an issue with his arm muscles.
On the final morning of the camp the attendees are playing a scratch game to demonstrate their skills for the coaches and the few parents who are there early to collect their kids. While watching Mo pitch the pro pitcher turns to the camp’s head coach and asks, “Dave, why did you strong arm me to come and coach this week?”
Dave grins as he replies, “That boy pitching is Mo Walker. I spoke to him on the first day of the first camp. He’d never touched a baseball in his life until he started to help a team by fielding for them a couple of months back. He showed lots of promise and was eager to learn. He did so well at the camp I thought to give him a chance and a challenge by having you coaching his pitching. He’s responded well to it.”
“Well enough I’ll be telling my management to keep an eye on him when he becomes eligible for the draft. Yes, it’s a few years away, but he’s already good enough for our club development teams to work on him to be one of the best. The only thing that’ll keep a few people from looking at him real close is his speed is too slow for what they want in a pitcher today. The issue with the tendons in his arm muscles gives him an odd throwing motion many won’t like, but it’s legal and works for him. And thanks for helping me fill in the time while I’m on the DL.” (Disabled List - a mandatory time off when hurt for recovery after an injury.)
“He’s not the fastest, but he has the best pitching statistics for the camp. That damn corkscrew ball of his! I’ve never seen a ball like it, and I’ve no idea how he does it.”
“It is a good one! I asked him about it and I still don’t understand his reply. He told me he puts spin on it the same way he used to bowl a googly in cricket. Whatever that is!”
“That, I can answer as I looked it up. In cricket a typical spin ball will hit the ground and turn away from the line. The intent is to get the edge of the bat when the batsman swings through the line of the delivery. If the batsman is expecting a spin ball he plays a little further out to cover the swing of the ball away so he gets the full bat on it instead of an edge going for a catch in the ‘slips’ position. But the googly spins back the other way to catch the batsman off guard by cutting between the bat and the pads for the wicket. There is a variant some bowlers get where it turns in the air more than expected. I think this is what Mo is doing. I think he’s using the seams on the ball to get more turn from it. Cricket balls only have one seam and the bowlers use it well. Baseballs have a lot more seams to play with. I find it interesting how well he transfers his cricket skills to playing baseball.”
“However he does it, Dave, he’s good! He’s got the potential to go far in this game. I expect to see him playing pro ball. But I don’t sense the determination in him I’d have expected from someone that skilled.”
After a short laugh Dave says, “Mo has a lot of determination in him. Of that you can be assured! But the question is: determination to do what? I saw him playing squash last week. He could be the state junior champion but he doesn’t play competition, it’s just fun exercise for him.”
“You think he may be the same way about baseball? It may be just a game and exercise for him and not a potential occupation. Is that it?”
“Sort of. I think he’ll see it as an avocation with a potential income ability. But I don’t think he’ll be as consumed with being a top pro ball player as you are, or I was. He doesn’t see baseball as the centre of his life, but as an important and fun side event.”
“Yeah. I see what you mean. But still, even like that he’d be a great player for any club.” A nod of agreement is the reply.
Mo finishes the baseball camps with a huge advancement in his baseball skills and knowledge. He’s very happy with the training and results. Now all he has to do is keep in practice until he can apply them in a real game for his school or a local team.
The basketball camp turns out to be a bit of a loser in Mo’s mind. The only thing he learns in the camp is how much more physical the game is in the USA as against the way it’s played in Australia. Contact you’d be called for a foul in Australia is let go in the USA. It’s a lot more physical and high contact as well as the slight differences in the rules to what he’s used to playing. Although there’s no advance in his skills it’s better to learn to be a lot more physical in a camp than on court during a game that counts! It also helps him to learn the differences in the rules they play under in the USA.
Overall, Mo is happy with the camps he attends and he’s very happy with the new skills he learns at them. Randy is happy Mo is happy.
Unknown to Mo a few of the kids from the last camp are from his new school and they’re already telling the baseball coach about him while some others are telling their local league coaches about Mo. All of the coaches put his name and information aside for consideration at the start of the next baseball season.
School starts and Mo fits in well due to the number of students he already knows from meeting them over the last few months. Mo is one of the oldest students in his class. Most are fifteen and will turn sixteen later in the school year, but he’ll turn seventeen during the year. This is due to the differences in the school systems. In both Australia and the USA they start kids in school at five years of age with Kindergarten, but the school year starts at the end of summer in both countries. In Australia the school year starts in February while it’s August in the USA. Being born late in the year, in December, Mo started school after he turned five instead of the year he turned five. The move to the USA and the change of system saw him at home catching up on subjects in what should have been the second half of his Year Ten in the USA, but had him at home catching up on the US high school subjects new to him. The end result is he’s a year behind his US age group contemporaries so he’s starting in Year Ten just like he would’ve in Australia in the February of this year, but some months later than he would have in Australia.
Being on the short end of the height range for his age Mo fits in with his classmates as regards his appearance. Due to his age he already has a driver’s licence, but he walks to school since it’s so close. Only Maria Pérez knows he has a licence. Mo isn’t the type to brag so he doesn’t say anything about having a licence. However, when the others talk about Driver’s Education class he admits he’s done a formal class with one of the driving schools over summer and is exempted from the school class. They wonder why, but they never ask him about it. Mo does Business Administration classes while his classmates do Driver’s Ed classes.
The first few weeks at school are a case of settling in for Mo. Which he does fairly quickly because schools and teaching are much the same in both countries. What is different, and it takes time for him to adjust to, is the school student social structure because it’s much more complex and defining of the students than back in Australia. It takes time, but he does learn to understand it and settle into the different school student culture it represents.