Archive for Thursday, June 21, 2001

A family that plays together…

June 21, 2001

By 6:30 p.m., the commuter traffic clears off K-10, the evening newscast wraps up, and the daylight-saving sun starts to show signs of resigning to nightfall.

For most people, this signifies the end of a busy day.

For baseball families like the Ballocks, it's just beginning.

Despite the hectic schedule, Don and LaDonna Ballock said interaction with their children makes it worthwhile.

Keeping track of six children, four of whom play baseball or softball, means they employ a charted schedule.

"Everyone's got their color," LaDonna said.

The lineup for the Ballock team includes Megan, 13, Emily, 11, Justin, 9, Jordan, 7, Andrew, 5 and Mitchell, 2.

Dinners often consist of ballpark picnics of burgers and fries from Sonic, located right across from the hometown turf of Eudora's softball fields where the Ballocks spent Friday evening.

"It's hard to eat dinner at 4:30," Don said.

Other times dinner comes from the local fast food joint where the teams go on the road. Ballpark days for the Ballocks usually last from 5:30 to 10 or 11 p.m.

"Sunflower seeds are a must for nervous parents," LaDonna said, holding a Ziploc bag of the classic baseball snack food with a quart of bottled water tucked under her arm.

Her husband, Don, pitches to a girl on one of two softball teams he coaches, this one including daughter Megan.

"Good hit," LaDonna shouts over the chain link fence.

The other children scamper about the complex, whether preparing for a game or running around the playground and climbing on equipment.

A stray ball from the girls' practice lands near the playground equipment, almost hitting 2-year-old Mitchell, who starts to whimper. LaDonna inspects him for injury: disaster averted.

For the Ballocks, baseball and softball are a family affair. But, they insist they aren't alone.

"I see the same people every night," LaDonna said. "It's been real important for us to be at everyone's games."

Don and LaDonna said they make toggling between games a priority, and they want at least one of them present.

"You can't make them all," Don said.

Delivering for a food service company takes him to St. Louis twice a week, meaning Don feels grateful for his coaching assistants who help him juggle the load.

Don said when he bids for his route in early spring he is already thinking about what route and days off will work best with playing schedules.

"A lot goes in to it to just make it there on time," he said.

As parents the Ballocks said they gain a new perspective on their children's lives through coaching and volunteering. While Don coaches Megan and Justin's teams, LaDonna puts in her hours at the concession stand. Tonight an umpire calls her away at 6:30 p.m. sharp. It's time for the game to start, and LaDonna will keep the score books as she does every game.

Just getting to the field requires preparation. Don estimated that to make it to a 6:30 p.m. game in Eudora with enough time to warm up, the children start getting ready at 4:30 p.m.

"They start scrounging around for their uniforms," he said. "We make sure they know where the uniform is."

"When you work with the kids you get to know their friends and their parents," LaDonna said. "You come out here and you have your groups of parents you talk with at every game. We have a good time."

Don said he watched his daughter and her friends change over the years.

"I started with the girls at 7 and 8," he said. "It's nice to see them grow and mature."

Plus, Don and LaDonna said that even if they didn't volunteer they would probably spend just as much time with baseball and softball trying to make it to everyone's game.

But coaching two teams means keeping track of two different sets of equipment not always an easy task.

LaDonna said they were almost to Wellsville for one of Megan's games when Don looked in the back of the car and realized he brought the boys' equipment.

The rest of the family doesn't come to games empty-handed either. A pocketful of cash is a must for concession snacks.

"We keep the concession stands in business," LaDonna said. "We come with full pockets, and they're empty by the time we leave."

Son Justin counters, "They're not empty because they're full with candy."

Sometimes the only break from baseball and softball comes from inclement weather.

"There was one week where we didn't play at all," LaDonna said. "We could have dinner."

When friends call wanting to know when the Ballocks can have dinner with them, LaDonna has to tell them that Fridays, well, some Fridays anyway, are good.

"I tell them, 'But if it rains, give me a call,'" she said.

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