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RAF MILDENHALL — A ground ball doesn’t seem too intimidating from the stands. But when it’s smacked in your direction, bouncing erratically, then at the last second jumps up and hits you, it’s a different story.

For a child, the shock and pain of being beaned by a ball is multiplied. Just ask 8-year-old Tyler Fonk, who plays for the Mariners team in RAF Mildenhall’s youth baseball league.

"It was really painful," a dramatic Tyler said after a slow-moving baseball struck his chest during a recent practice.

Nearly every sport offers scrapes and bruises to those who play it. A small, round shiner is one minor injury that a baseball can leave behind.

It may not have been the best feeling in the world, but the incident didn’t stop Tyler from finishing practice. In fact, he just rubbed his chest briefly and waited for the next ground ball.

He hopes to get better over time to avoid being hit by another ball, he said.

Starting this week, the Mariners and 14 other teams in the league begin their first games. Roughly 150 children between 5 and 13 years old are scheduled to play eight games until late August.

"It keeps them away from the Game Boys and into the fresh air," Dave Wilcox, youth sports director, said of the annual league.

Wilcox oversees other sports throughout the year, all run by volunteer coaches.

"It’s all about the volunteers," he said. "Without them, youth sports wouldn’t be what it is today."

Master Sgt. Michael Muraco, who helps coach the Mariners, is one of many. He wanted to coach his 8-year-old daughter, Kaitlyn, as she started baseball for the first time.

"It seems like an all-American thing to do," the 100th Maintenance Squadron airman said of the sport.

A quick glance at the team’s hourlong practice last week revealed 7- to 9-year-old children excited to be out on the baseball diamond. However, kids will be kids, and sometimes their attention veered away.

Muraco and another coach, Tech. Sgt. Heather Fonk, of the 100th Logistics Readiness Squadron and mother of Tyler, reeled them back in with fielding and base-running techniques. They also encouraged players when blatant mistakes were made.

"This is their first time playing; they’ll only get better," he reassured after practice at the Heritage Park here. "They’re 7 to 9, not 17 to 19."


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