Reuben Posner's family had been back only 12 hours from a monthlong trip to Israel, but he had no intentions of giving in to jet lag.
Reuben had a softball game to play. "I missed a few games, but I'm back," said Reuben, sounding at age 12 like a pro just off the injured list. "It's fun."
Reuben is among 68 youths who have become obsessed with softball this summer in an informal, twice-a-week gathering behind Wellwood International School on Smith Avenue in Pikesville, launched by Debi Holzman -- also known as "the commish."
Holzman, a certified public accountant who lives near the school, started the games in June when her daughter Lisa, 10, lamented the end of her Little League baseball season.
"I called just a few neighborhood kids to see if they wanted to play," Holzman said. "Kids started wandering over to see what we were doing and they started playing, and before we know it, word had spread."
What began as a few innings quickly turned into an every-Monday-and-Thursday event where the only absolute rule is to have fun. Players range in age from 5 to 18, and Holzman -- wearing a white cap with the word "Commissioner" in gold letters -- chooses the sides, striving for fairness.
"What's nice is that it's not threatening," Madlyn Kroll said as her daughter Cindy, 7, took the field. "I've heard people say Little League can be too competitive, but this is just for fun."
The games seem magical in their innocence.
The catcher has a backup catcher, and the pitcher gets two VTC "pitcher's helpers" to assist in fielding bunts or squibble-hits.
"Instructional" players are allowed to take as many swings as they need to hit the ball and round all the bases in "home runs" that don't count -- but who cares?
Holzman said she designed the game that way to include all the players. "Some of these kids had never played before they started playing with us," she said. "I wanted everyone to get a chance."
There's Sam Allen, for example -- all of 5 years old, and one of the tiniest of the instructional players. When he knocks the ball past first base on his third swing and motors around the bases, even the rival team cheers him on with cries of "Go Sam!"
"I just like to hit the ball," Sam said after his home run, tugging at his unorthodox but Orthodox baseball cap -- a yarmulke decorated with sports symbols. "I like being instructional 'cause then I get more swings and more hits."
And it's downright impossible for instructional players to strike out.
Sam's mother, Nina Allen, says the games allow children of all races and nationalities to interact in a positive environment.
"When Debi calls out the names for each team, there are Hebrew names mixed with American, Islamic and Arab names," Allen says. "Every child is welcome to play."
Hiba Hassan wants it known that she is no longer instructional. The 7-year-old who had never played before this summer now "trains" on the days the group doesn't play, she says.
As she steps up to bat, attired in a hot-pink shorts set and matching hair scrunchie, Hiba lets out a yell meant for the players in the farthest-out outfield: "I'm not instructional -- I'm a player!"
And to accent that point, she hits a drive past the pitcher and the pitcher's helpers and lopes into second base courtesy of a subsequent fielding error.
"I like it because it's exercise," Hiba said after scoring a run. "The hardest part is when I'm the catcher and I have to throw the ball in a straight line."
Pub Date: 8/21/96