There were runners on first and second. The batter hit a ball through the gap between the shortstop and third base, and off the runners went. Except the shortstop immediately got in the way of the runner coming from second, and started smacking him with a glove. The confused runner covered his head with his hands as he maneuvered around the shortstop, and barely made it to third base in time to beat the throw from left field.

Such are the joys of little league baseball, of which I recently completed my third season of coaching....

There were runners on first and second. The batter hit a ball through the gap between the shortstop and third base, and off the runners went. Except the shortstop immediately got in the way of the runner coming from second, and started smacking him with a glove. The confused runner covered his head with his hands as he maneuvered around the shortstop, and barely made it to third base in time to beat the throw from left field.

Such are the joys of little league baseball, of which I recently completed my third season of coaching. I approached the shortstop after that play, and explained to her that she was not allowed to tag the runner with her glove unless she actually had the ball. “Oh, I know,” she retorted. “I was trying to stop him from getting to third base.” I explained that obstructing the runner on the basepath is not permitted in baseball. “Why not?” she innocently asked.

Little league baseball, especially at the younger levels, has many such moments. In an earlier game this season, my third baseman cleanly fielded a ball, saw the approaching runner from second base, and rather than simply tag the bag for a force out, ran full speed at the approaching player and knocked him to the ground. The kid limped off the field crying.

Of course, little league is also routinely frustrating. Many kids have difficulty paying attention for more than a few seconds. Some get down on the ground and play in the dirt during the game. They can be impervious to simple instructions like “throw the ball to first!” or “don’t swing the bat in the dugout!” And don’t get me started on some of the parents. As Yogi Berra famously said, “little league baseball is a very good thing because it keeps the parents off the streets.”

Nevertheless, I’m convinced little league baseball is keeping me sane. It’s not just the comedic elements, though those make for good stories — like the kid on the opposing team who had no desire to be playing, and who after about fifteen pitches from his coach finally hit the ball about five feet, and then refused to run to first base. (We got him out at first.) But it’s far more than that. Little league baseball, to my own surprise, remains one of the few institutions in America — at least in my very liberal native Northern Virginia — that has not succumbed to the absurd woke identitarianism that has made daily life in liberal suburbia so exasperating.

Unlike the elementary schools many of these kids attend, the leagues I have coached in do not include any pedagogy on race, sex, or gender. There is no discussion of diversity, inclusion, and equity. There is simply baseball.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t diversity on the teams. The team I just coached had whites, blacks, Asians, and Latinos. The last team we played was at least a third South Asian. But no one dwells on these distinctions. They are irrelevant to the game, which at its heart is about athleticism, intelligence, discipline, and teamwork. Those traits, I’m happy to say, remain universal to the human condition, regardless of race or culture.

Yet in another sense baseball is indeed intolerant. It is played a certain (admittedly quite complicated) way. You want to know how to play soccer? Kick the ball in the goal. No hands. You want to know how to play baseball? How many hours you got?

The rules rarely change, and when they do, they are in ways typically perceptible only to the most diligent of fans. As Leo Durocher said, “Baseball is like church. Many attend, few understand.” Until recent data-driven developments like the shift or lineups loaded with relievers, innovation was rare. Thank God those changes have not filtered down to little league. The game my seven-year-old son plays is the same exact one I played thirty years ago.

Baseball’s culture remains indelibly American, manifested not only in a certain WASPish gentlemanly sportsmanship (don’t hit the batter, block the baserunner, antagonize the pitcher, or run up the score), but in the language itself. The American language is pulsing with the words of baseball: ace, bullpen, home run, strike out, out of left field. You get the idea. To learn baseball is to be acculturated into Americana. For recent immigrants, that’s important, which is why the game for generations has been such an effective instrument of assimilation.

But it’s not just the game that helps connect me to the remnants of something beautiful. It’s everything that comes with little league. There’s the parents who, though they didn’t sign up to coach, end up doing so anyway, helping run practice, or standing out in the field during games guiding the players. There’s the fundraising, which got my son and I out into our community, meeting neighbors we would never have otherwise met.

Little league baseball represents some of the best traits of American civic activism as the Founders intended it. There’s volunteerism and neighborliness. There’s an expectation of personal responsibility that eschews unnecessary bureaucracy — I received absolutely no training to coach the last three seasons. And there’s a rejection of the hyper-competitive, obsessive athletic spirit common among today’s technocratic elite, whose children play in expensive travel sports which most families cannot afford. My son’s season cost me $140.

By the end of the season, most of the players on the team had made noticeable improvements. They understood the basics of the game and could make basic outs in the field. Of course, it will be another few seasons before what they play truly resembles baseball, and a few seasons more before they can excel.

Perhaps there’s a lesson there for civic responsibility. Simply having an American passport or a Social Security number doesn’t make one a good citizen. Citizenship is something that must be habituated and practiced over many years, with careful guidance and instruction from those who are formed in its disciplines. It requires not only knowledge, but virtue, and humility towards those who bequeathed to us the gift of freedom and prosperity.

“What duty [is] more pressing than communicating it [the science of good government] to those who are to be the future guardians of the liberties of the country?” asked George Washington.

Citizenship, like baseball, takes time, and a lot of trial and error to properly understand. It is not something natural or given. Perhaps many of our public school educators — who seem eager to train the next generation in the ways of radical activism and sexual exploration — should take note. Or they can come watch my son’s next season of little league. It could be instructive.