Little League, Big Egos
I offer a baseball story in between what will be many posts about Ronald Reagan and the lingering affects of his death. Yesterday was the Little League All-Star game. As you may recall, DJ made the team this year. Now, I should say from the start that while I love Little League, I hate the politics of it. There's always that one group of parents who get deferential treatment due to whatever connection they have with the board of directors. Or perhaps they are the board of directors. Certain coaches are favored when games or decisons are disputed. Parents behave badly, and their behavior is more often rewarded than punished. So, yesterday's game was moving along smoothly. The kids on both team were playing great baseball and everyone (save for DJ, who was being way too hard on himself for striking out twice) was having a good time. The bleachers were crowded, the hot dogs were grilling and the rain was cooperating and staying perched in the clouds.
The rules of the All-Star game dictate that each pitcher shall pitch only one inning. Because twenty kids are picked for the team, they want to make sure not only that all the kids who pitch that were picked get a turn, but that the coaches won't put in the "star" pitcher for too many innings - the game is not supposed to be a competitive one. Let's go to thebottom of the eighth inning. The game is tied, 4-4. The other team has their most imposing player at the mound. The kid stands at least five inches and 50 lbs over everyone else. In a league made up of mostly ten and eleven year olds, this kid looks like Randy Johnson to them. He's eleven going on twenty and throws the meanest, hardest fastball this side of the majors. You can hear the whomp every time the ball flies past the batter and lands in the catcher's mitt. Of course, he strikes the side out. One. Two. Three. Gone. The kids breath a sigh of relief that they won't have to face him again in the ninth. Or would they? Bottom of the ninth, score still tied at four. Who comes to the mound but Randy Johnson, Little Leaguer. If you've ever been involved in Little League, I don't have to tell you what followed. For those unfamiliar with childrens' organized sports, what happened was this: Fifteen minutes of yelling, cajoling, pleading, name-calling, cursing, accusations and a bunch of little kids picking their wedgies and spitting sunflower seeds at each other while the coaches and some parents tried to come to a decision. Honestly, I couldn't understand what the fuss was about. A rule is a rule is a rule. If the rule says kids can only pitch one inning, then what was all the fuss about? Damned if I know, because I took the break in the action as an opportunity to go wait on line for the bathroom. When I got back, a decision had been made (and the foul-mouthed woman who heads the league inadvertently taught the kids some choice new words) and Randy Johnson was told to leave the mound. A new pitcher came in and Randy was moved to first base. The other team started booing as soon as our first batter of the inning stepped into the box. Their coaches encouraged, this by laughing and and giving them high-fives. Nice manners, guys. Very nice. Remember, it's the bottom of the ninth. Tie game. Now there is more at stake than just winning the All-Star game. The booing must be avenged. Cut to the last pitch. Two guys are on base, one on second and one on third. Two outs. The kid at bat is 0-3 on the day. The drizzling has started and is threatening to become a downpour and the prospect of extra innings is not one any of the parents wants to face. The kid hits a dribbler towards third base. Damn, we all think. Here come those extra innings. But....no! The third baseman scoops up the ball and makes the easy throw to Randy Johnson at first. Unfortunately, Randy was distracted by one of his coaches yelling at him to move forward. The ball goes right by Randy and the kid on third scores. Game. Over. The parents on our side go crazy. The kids are screaming. They run to the field to jump all over each other. As the parents are saying things like sweet justice and neener neener, the kids from the other team run out the field, too. Forty kids all running around the bases, slapping each other on the back and just acting like ten and eleven year old boys. Not even two minutes after the winning run crossed the plate and the kids cheered their own victory, they could have cared less about the game. To them, the game and its final score were secondary to razzing their school friends from the opposing team or racing them from home base to centerfield. A few minutes later, all forty kids were standing by the pitchers mound, posing for a "team"picture. It was their idea to have their pictures taken together. DJ had long forgotten that he struck out three times and was engaged in a contest with his friend from the other team to see who could stick more Big League Chew in their mouths. Most of the parents chatted about the upcoming playoffs. And then there were those few parents who were still bitching about the game, and those who were still gloating. Those are the parents who could learn something from the kids who thought a "team" picture meant both teams. DJ's trophy will eventually collect dust on a shelf, but that picture I took of the forty grinning kids will get framed and hung on his wall. I wish I could say that I never get into "screaming parent" mode, but the playoffs haven't even started yet and I will reserve judgment on myself until I can go through the entire playoffs without being one of those parents.