Little league rule 101: if the pitcher hits two batters, he is relieved of his pitching duties.
Charlie was selected to be the team’s starting pitcher for the first game of the season. He earned it. He throws really hard, when he warms up, our parent coaches are constantly shaking their mitted hands in pain. But, Charlie is not too accurate.
While he did well in the first inning, he had gotten himself into a bit of a jam in the second inning – he hit a batter, and loaded the bases without getting any outs. After taking a deep breath, Charlie winds up and hurls. The baseball smacks the batter. We all know what this means, especially Charlie. He lowers his head and pulls his cap down, covering his face. The coach jogs to the mound, gets down to his level, takes the ball, and pats the brim of his cap. With his head down, Charlie slowly walks to the outfield.
“Hey, left field, you want to pitch?”
The left fielder is my kid.
My guy did not pitch a lot last season although he really wanted to. He did, however, show promise at the first practice. I could feel his surprise that he was called to the mound. Me? He trotted to his new position and took the ball from the coach.
There are many types of parents and relatives watching a little league game. I am the pacing, loud baseball-loving mom. I am a bit annoying to talk to while watching my kid play. In the middle of a an intense conversation, I will interrupt with a “ GOOD EYE” or “THAT’S ALL RIGHT WE WILL GET EM NEXT TIME”
I tend to sit alone sometimes. I am quite aware that it is hard to speak to someone who has baseball Tourette’s syndrome. Eighty-seven percent of the time, I want my only child to endure triumph and failure through challenging personal experiences. I know successful people are resilient; it is a quality I want my kid to possess. But, thirteen percent of the time, I want him to live in a land filled with bubble gum that whitens your teeth and vaccines that truly feel like a pinch. As he approaches the mound, I am thinking maybe we can go for fortitude in the next game, I don’t want him to be the goat of the first game of the season.
Especially, since, his team, the Fireballs are the reigning champions. Last year, the kids played in the Pony League for eight to nine year olds. Every other year, the last game of the season ended with lots of donuts and trophies for all who played. In the Pony League, every team played two playoff games. The two teams who had the most points scored and best win/loss record qualified for the championship game. Only winner and runner-up earned trophies. And, the winner’s trophy was much bigger than the runner up’s. Most kids would go home trophyless. You read that right, there would be tears, disappointment, but, still donuts.
As much as we love our little fireballs, nary a mom or dad thought the team would be the champions. So much so, many parents made plans to go away the weekend of the big game. We were not terrible, but, you know the team that comes from behind? We were the other team. While we lost the first game 3 to 2 (as usual, we held the other team scoreless until the bottom of the last inning), we won the second game, 15 to 1 having won the lottery in being chosen to play the worst team in the league. Unfireballish, we won the championship game in a nail-biting 2 to 0 victory.
My little guy breaths in deep. And, I hear him say:
This Is AWESOME.
While he hits the first batter, he strikes out the side.
I would like to tell you that that was the moment he became the ace pitcher of the team, but, alas, this is baseball, the metaphor for life. In the next game, he got three easy outs and bonus we scored five runs so my kid was protecting a lead. I was so happy. The sun was shining, it was going to be a great day. But, I forgot there are seven innings in a little league game (or two hour limit, whatever comes first).
In the next inning, he walked the first two batters. The next batter got a hit and a run scored. Still, no outs, and a man on first and second. A few more walks and an error (that really hurt) and now bases are loaded and no outs. Batter up. My nine year old pitches and the batter hits a long fly ball that passes third base just where I am standing. I can see my kid watching the ball and I feel his praying that the ball go foul. It does not. It drops in front of me barely in fair territory. Worse yet, the ball rolls and rolls and rolls. Our left fielder is now chasing the ball and not gaining any ground. My husband/videographer presses stop on the record button of his phone. This is not a video we are going to play at Thanksgiving for the grandparents. Meanwhile, the base runners dash around the bases. And, when the batter comes home, the whole team greets him. Loud cheers, baseball caps flying in the air. My guy puts his head down, the coach sends him to the outfield. I fight all I have not to run on the field, pick him up, and take him home. It was a long car ride home. I would like to say that we used this as a learning lesson but we all felt so heartsick. We lost the game and my little leaguer felt like he let his team down.
This team feels like his April to June brothers as most of the team has been together for four seasons. My guy started this league when he was in kindergarten. These kids knew nothing about the rules of baseball. A ball gets hit and the whole team, even some members of the opposing team, run after it. The outfielder missed the fly ball because he was busy picking his nose. The second baseman runs off the field because he had to go the bathroom. Parents trying to give some form of encouragement, like screaming good eye when the batter does not swing at a ball ten feet over the batter’s head.
The core of this team stayed together over the years and we watched them grow into big boys and pretty decent players. Now, they are hitting the ball, making defensive plays, and arguing with the umpire. They developed a love for the game, one player eats dinner wearing his helmet.
Throughout the years, it was fun to watch the families, too. Pregnant one season, chasing a kid the next. The fedora wearing grandfather sitting in his fold up chair, not saying a peep until someone asks what’s the score. Some parents getting a little too competitive: stopping the game to bring out the baseball looseleaf rule book, and arguing the rules to the volunteer umpire, a high school senior.
When we got home, our baseball player announced that he was no longer going to pitch. While we did our best to tell him stories of great resilience (did you know Michael Jordan did not make the junior varsity team?), we knew that this experience could potentially crush his desire to play this sport, and we did not want that outcome.
Next morning, it was time for another game. It did not help that it was raining but not hard enough to cancel the game. My kid who is normally pretty happy and hyper was somber matching the weather.
The coach sent Paul to pitch and my guy trotted off to left field. Our pitcher was doing well, got two outs. But, his luck changed. He loaded the bases, and he was shaking his foot. The coach went to the mound, checked the foot, and took him out of the game. As the two walked off the field, the coach turned towards the outfield and signaled that my guy should take the mound.
Anybody have xanax? Is there a cardiologist in the house?
I was so proud of him that he did not refuse to take the ball, and, like in the first game, he trotted to the mound. But, I still needed a schedule IV narcotic. Like he was starring in his own G rated feel good movie, he struck out the next batter. And, lucky for us, the skies opened up and the game was canceled.
What happened to our team? We found out that Charlie was holding the ball wrong and he became quite the Nolan Ryan junior. We made it to the championship game, but lost 5 to 3. In tears, the coach thanked the team for playing so well and added that he felt like he had 10 sons. Me too.
Eight years from now when my little guy asks, what should I write my college essay on, I know these experiences will be at the top of my idea list. I am hopeful that after this season, I will be a little calmer watching him next year. Even so, it is a real joy to watch my kid play in times of errors and hits.