It tests you
David, a third grader who is playing in his second baseball game ever, steps to the plate to face Luca, an athletic fourth grader who has been playing since little sluggers tee ball.
The game moves really, really fast for the learners. We have a couple of them. The rules are complex: where do I throw it? Should I run to third on a grounder to the left side with less than two outs? Which way is left field? And the mechanics are just ridiculously hard. As has been observed a million times, the greatest hitters ever fail nearly 70% of the time.
David somehow manages to get his bat out over the plate at the right moment, and thanks to the physics of inelastic collisions, the hard thrown ball bounds off of it and over the first baseman’s head, rolling to a stop just down the line in that space where it’s gonna take a while for anyone to get there. David’s on his way to second when the throw goes into left field. When he gets to third, that kid kicks it to the fence. David makes it home and slides awkwardly (for no reason—there was no play). Lots of little league there.
The kids in our dugout go NUTS. It’s a nice bunch, again. Supportive, attentive, respectful of the game and each other and the harried adults who are trying to wrangle them. They all know it’s a BIG DEAL that David got a home run. (Single with three errors? That’s not how I scored it.) David’s beaming.
But as we look back out to the field, the coaches from the other team are talking to the umpire about something. They instruct Luca to step off the rubber and throw the ball to the first baseman, who touches the base. “HE’S OUT!” calls the umpire. In the thrill of the moment, David had forgotten to touch first base. The game moves really, really fast. David’s too confused to be crushed, but his older teammates know what happened and we do our best to shore them all up. Still some game to play.
In the next half inning—the bottom of the sixth, the end of the game—David’s playing third, we’re nursing a 1-run lead, and it’s the heart of the other team’s lineup. Our soft-tossing pitcher coaxes an ill-timed swing from one of their bruisers and he pops it up to the left side. David, undaunted, steps over and catches the ball. Calmly, easily, like he does this every day when in fact he’s never done it before in his life. It’s the critical out of the inning. From there, we hold the lead. He gets one of the game balls.
He passed that test. There’s another one for him and all the rest of them on Tuesday.
Indoors, of course, because this is the land the sun forgot and there’s still a foot of ice everywhere.
I threw grounders and pop-ups for over an hour; my forearm and elbow ache. I also got hit square on the top of the head with an errant pitch from a fourth-grader. Head’s OK, but the arm’ll kill tomorrow.
I hurt. And it is awesome.
It ended the only way it realistically could have, and so here we are hoisting the second-place trophy. Some of the forced or absent smiles tell the story. They wanted this game and they almost got it.
The kid who’d probably be the #7 pitcher on the team threw two innings of 2-run ball and we kept it close. Ultimately, though, the fourth game in five days stretched us too thin against a pretty good team that was fully rested. We lost 14-11.
This is my third year of (assistant) coaching baseball, and I’ve pitched in on a couple of soccer seasons, too. I can say without any hesitation that this is the best group of kids we’ve had by far. I’m proud of them all for their effort, attitude, and willingness to learn. Just a fun bunch to be around. Unsurprisingly, their parents are universally great, too. Supportive and present in all of the right ways and none of the wrong. Not one tool in the bunch. I’m really bummed the season is over.
I may be a little biased, but I’m especially proud of the third slugger from the left in the first row of standing boys. One of the smallest kids in the league, he worked his way up to the #6 (of 11) spot in the lineup, consistently making contact against even the biggest fireballing fourth graders in town. Fearless. We don’t keep individual stats, but I’d bet he was among the top four RBI producers on the team. Watching him grow from a tentative swinger to one who now strides confidently to the plate and digs in while holding up his back hand to signal “time” to the ump is a highlight of the year. He really came into himself as a ballplayer this season.
He decided he didn’t want to play summer travel ball this year which was a slight disappointment, but it’s fully his decision and I respect it. We’ll be back here in the spring, and he’s excited for real soccer in the fall. More unstructured time at the pool sounds like a winner in the meantime.
(click photo to make it legible)
June 1: 3-2 (L)
June 4: 13-1 (W)
June 8: 11-4 (W)
June 11: 11-8 (W)
June 13: 16-9 (W)
June 14: 18-17 (W)
Danny’s baseball team went 10-2 in the regular season. For the playoffs, the idiots who run this league seeded the teams at random and chose home teams by coin flips. We got a tough first draw, lost the coin flip, and the kids’ bats went cold, which dropped us down into the loser’s bracket in this double elimination tourney.
From there, we’ve gone on a grueling run, eliminating five teams in ten days—three in the last four. Today, as karma dictates, we face our nemesis in the pre-championship* game. That is the team whose head coach called our head coach a liar to his face in front of all the kids over a rules dispute. (Which our coach was right about, BTW.) In all my time with sports, including my asshole years in my 20’s playing men’s league softball, this was the closest I’ve ever seen it get to real violence. I thought our coach, a super nice guy, was going to fucking pound this jerk. That would have been deeply satisfying and richly deserved.
Thankfully, he didn’t, and here we are for the rematch. But the idiots who run this league and the rules of little league baseball conspire to leave us with only one viable pitcher today. Everyone else is “burned” due to the national association’s pitch count limits, etc. After that one kid throws his limit today, we’ll have to pitch kids who never do. Some of them will not find the strike zone at all. The other team, meanwhile, has their entire roster available due to the three-day layoff since their last game. We will almost surely get pounded, and in the process some of our lesser players, 9-year-old boys, will be humiliated in the way that only baseball, the loneliest of team sports, affords.
Did I mention this league is run by idiots?
Anyway. Please send your mojo this way for a massive rainstorm, with lightning if possible, before 11:00 today. Because tomorrow we’d get most of our pitchers back. And failing that, please send mojo for the greatest little league underdog victory of all time.
* since we’re in the loser’s bracket, if we win, we’d have to play them again for all the marbles.