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This story could begin in many places – it’s about beginnings, after all – but I’d like to start with the recent evening when my 4-year-old daughter, Zoe, appeared before me wielding a yellow baseball bat and an important announcement: batting tees were for babies. From now on, she would hit real pitches, like the big kids.

By way of biography, I should mention that Zoe, the youngest of four, is considered one of the finest all-around mini-athletes in the history of our house. She’s widely celebrated for her ability to throw balls really far, to hop on one foot across the whole front porch, and to run faster than a superfast airplane can fly. So as I walked (and she raced) down to the basement and located an inflatable purple ball, I fully expected Zoe to take to hitting like she’d taken to everything else.

But Zoe, it turned out, pretty much stunk.

Toss after toss, she missed. Five tosses. Then 10. I tried throwing the ball softer, harder, lower, higher. I got a different bat, offered advice and abundant encouragement, tried covertly to pitch the ball so it hit the bat. Nothing worked. Zoe whiffed with virtuosity and enthusiasm. Against my nobler instincts, I found myself, like the purple ball, getting a bit deflated. I felt as if I were receiving a grimly polite report suggesting that Zoe, despite her athletic promise, had regrettably tested negative for hand-eye coordination.

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