Little League

by Peter J. Stevens

Somehow the little league sign-up deadline came and went without Jeff getting signed up. Somehow we made contact with another district that would allow Jeff to join if I would help coach the team. As it was, I worked with the coach, so it was agreeable and arranged.

I bought Jeff a left hander's glove, but after the first practice it was obvious that even though he was left handed, he would play baseball as a right hander. His ability improved 1000% once I replaced his glove with a right hander's.

What a bunch of misfits! This team was made up of all the rejects and leftovers from the rest of the teams in this district, of which there were six. These kids could hardly chew gum and walk at the same time, let alone watch a ball flying through the air and swing a bat at it. But Mike (the coach) and I went there not for our glory, we were there to help the kids learn the sport of baseball and most important, for the kids to have fun. So we got to work.

After about two weeks (twice a week) of practice, we had our first game. We did our best to pick a pitcher and fill all the other positions. It seems to me that if your pitcher could get one strike on the batter, he could strike out the batter, regardless of how bad the pitches were. There were a few balls actually hit and maybe even a clean base hit or two. But the game was won by the team that walked the fewest batters. It was not uncommon to pitch to the full compliment in every inning. (This league had instituted the rule that regardless of outs, only nine batters could bat per team per inning.) And so the game went. We won something like 15 to 14, but we won.

We spent the summer playing two games a week and there was impromptu practice. About halfway through the season the really uncoordinated children had dropped out, and Mike recruited two others. One being a girl. And so it went. Kids began to fit particular positions and do well playing there. Base hits became more common and the team actually got to play as opposed to standing by watching the pitcher and catcher play catch. This was true, however, with all the teams, we all got better. After a long, hot summer, the season came to a conclusion and the playoffs began. Out of six teams we were fourth. Not bad.

There was one team that had gone undefeated. This team was made up of the most talented of the lot and didn't have to work at the game. We played them first, and of course, we lost. But it was double elimination, so we moved to the lost column.

My kids had started to come into their own. They had spent the beginning of the season losing regularly, but towards the end of the season, we were winning more than we lost. And the team peaked at the proper time, during the playoffs. Every game was a squeaker, but we managed to win each. We even had the first home run of the season - hit by our only female member.

After three weeks, the round robin games were over and the only team to go undefeated through the playoffs squared off against the team that only lost one game. We were in the finals and matched against the team that had gone undefeated all season - a team to whom we had already lost. We already had lost one game so losing any one of the next two games ended the playoffs, ended the season, and ended our chance to win the championship.

If this was a movie, this would be where the tight close-up on balls going into gloves, close-ups of the ball leaving the hand as it is thrown, close-ups of the face of the pitchers with sweat flipping off his hair, and all in slow motion. I remember nothing about the game except we came from behind to win in extra innings. And we won by one.

The next day we arrived for the final game. We thought we had a good crowd last game. Usually only the parents would show up. The last game all the relatives were there with miscellaneous members of the other teams. But today we had more people watching than all the other games combined. All the coaches and most of the team members were there. Parents, relatives and off-duty officials were all there. People with lawn chairs and picnic dinners were lining the fence all the way around. This was a minor league team and we had a bigger crowd than the major teams. Even players from the major teams snuck over when they could.

This game was a post script to the season. The game to win was the last one and we had won it. The undefeated team had been defeated and the rejects had been victorious. This game was just to prove it was no fluke. It was a good game. Both teams showed guts, spirit, teamwork, and sportsmanship. But there was never any doubt which team was in control. We won, again it was close, but we led the whole time and it went only the regulation seven innings.

I doubt that any of these kids ever think back on this summer. They may have lost or thrown out the trophy each earned.

At this point I could talk about things like dedications, practice, patience, discipline, and so on, but I would only be feeding my ego. Mike and I only showed this bunch of losers what to do and how to do it, and then helped them do it over and over again. It was the kids who did the work and had fun doing it , and in the process, turned themselves into champions.

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