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It's Bat, Ball, Glove, and Tee Time

Spring is nigh in all but the coldest northern reaches of the United States. That means the snow is gone from T-ball fields, and the players will soon be throwing and hitting and running the bases.

Notice that we said T-ball, not the better-known baseball or softball - though preparations are under way for those mild-weather sports as well.

T-ball is baseball for boys and girls as young as 4 years old, who are just learning the rules and fundamentals of baseball. For most of these sprouts, it's their first organized sport.

This comes to mind because of the recent death of a man who is generally credited with pioneering T-ball as an organized sport. So organized that more than two million players - about two-thirds boys and one-third girls - play T-ball across the United States today.

In the mid-1950s, Jerry Sacharski - the man who just died at age 93 - was a recreation director in Albion, Michigan. There, as elsewhere, Little League baseball was popular with kids as young as 8 or 9 years old. But children even younger - too young and uncoordinated to be safe when a pitcher threw a hard baseball as they tried to hit it with a bat - kept showing up, wanting to play. "I just couldn't send them away," Sacharski said later.

So he fashioned a batting tee made of a metal pipe and pieces of a garden hose. The little ones - some of them as young as 4 - took positions on the field, just like the older kids. But the ball was not pitched. They swung and hit it off the makeshift tee.

It's not clear who actually invented the game of T-ball, but Sacharski was generally credited with organizing the first T-ball leagues. Everywhere the sport is played, the emphasis is on fun, learning and sportsmanship rather than intense competition.

U.S. presidents since Ronald Reagan have hosted T-ball games on the South Lawn of the White House. We have no idea who won any of the three games overseen by President George W. Bush last year. That's because, just as in most T-ball games across the country, nobody kept score.

Read more of Ted's personal reflections and stories from the road on his blog, Ted Landphair's America.