The first agent to show any interest in my writing offered to meet and discuss my manuscript after months of back and forth. During our conversation he shared an anecdote centered on the time his Little League team played at Shea Stadium. ‘How exciting!’ he and his teammates thought. ‘A Big League field in a Big League park!’
He turned out for the game in high spirits, proudly carrying his bat and glove, eager to ascend to the game’s elite venue. But when the ceremonies were over—lineup announced on the PA, National Anthem sung, warmup pitches thrown—the first batter came up, the first ball was hit… and the first error was made. The game underway, the agent’s boyhood self realized, ‘We’re still just Little Leaguers and this is still just Little League.’
Never mind what the anecdote may have suggested about the merits of my first manuscript. I’d like to focus on what the anecdote suggests about Little League baseball. I’d like to focus on why, seven years later, that anecdote seems so off-base.
I just finished my first season managing a Little League team of my own. I’m proud of each and every one of my players. I’m proud of the boy who caught the first fly of the season and the boy who fielded the first grounder and threw a runner out. I’m proud of the boy who stayed on the field after getting whacked by a ball and I’m proud of the boys who struck out 3 times in a game but kept coming up for more. I’m proud of the kids who knocked the cover off the ball not because they were great hitters but because, when they reached the dugout, they turned around to cheer their teammates on.
I’m grateful for the parents who brought the boys to practice every week and helped on the field, and I’m grateful for all those who took on the numerous coaching duties from tossing balls at players to managing first base to organizing a dugout full of seven year olds and a field full of wandering minds with live-action balls threatening concussion. I’m grateful to the league who organizes so much of this and to our sponsors who help mitigate the costs.
But most of all, I’m gratified by the way we ended our season.
It wasn’t the excellent hitting today and it wasn’t the plays we made. It was the spontaneous eruption of baseball that followed our post-game pizza party. Something about baseball made the boys leave cookies and chips and juice on the picnic tables to seek their thrills on the empty field before us. They wanted to pitch and hit and field. They wanted to swing the bat one more time again.
Baseball. Something in their conviction to play on tells me there’s more to Little League baseball than aspiration for the Majors. That isn’t why they do it and that isn’t why we coach. We do these things because the sandlot beckons.
As for the shabby experience by that early agent when his Little League team played at Shea: did I mention I managed the McLean Little League Mets?