Last year, Jack’s little league was intense. The competition led to some shady moves.
There are strict rules that limit the number of pitches and innings a kid can throw. Likewise, all the kids have to play at least 2 innings in the infield. These rules are there so all the kids get a chance to pitch and play the infield – otherwise you’d stick your lousy kids in left field and just pitch your really good kids.
Last year there was some serious controversy about the pitch counts that turned into parents yelling on the field. Fielder rotation was lopsided at best. On-field rule disputes were fairly common. In the stands spectators barked at umpires. Often, I would find myself silently rooting against kids I really liked because they were playing against Jack’s team.
Not surprisingly, when the kids played on their own in the schoolyard, it was an acrimonious affair. Any call was a matter for heated, blind denial.
“You didn’t get me! I was on the base!”
“NO! NO! You were out! I saw!”
Games were not a contest of who played the best; they were a screaming contest. It was impossible to get through an inning without multiple kids quitting because of unfair teams and rules disputes. Sportsmanship was nonexistent. I remember playing kickball one weekend in front of my house with Jack and his friends. Every time there was an out they all began to shriek like I’d set off 6 car alarms.
Fast forward a year. Last night, Jack had a tremendous game in the field. He snagged a beautiful backhand grounder and made a perfect throw. He tagged out two runners. However, at the plate he struck out twice. Still no hit this year. Every time the pitcher throws he steps back and flinches.
After the game one of the other dads grabbed me and said: “Jack’s lookin’ really good. We just need to get him going at the plate.”
This led me to consider some other observations:
1) A week ago I played stickball with a bunch of Jack’s friends. I was playing first base, and after pretending to hand the ball to the pitcher I returned to my position. The runner on first took a lead, beginning to taunt the pitcher. I reached out and tagged him with the ball.
“Aw!” he laughed, and headed off the base paths smiling.
2) Last night a kid pitched poorly and the coach came out to take him off the mound. In the stands one of the parents spoke up.
“Hey, I think that kid’s crying. Let’s give him a hand.”
All the parents started clapping and shouting encouragement to the kid.
3) Last night it looked like it was going to rain. Shani was really disappointed. She was genuinely looking forward to watching the game.
4) A dad says to me: “We need to get Jack going at the plate.”
We need to get him going. We. Mind you, I’m not really friends with this guy, nor is Jack good friends with his son. In fact, his son plays on the other team.
Yet we need to get Jack going.
I kept thinking of it all day. We.
I think it’s different this year. I don’t know if the kids are more mature, or the parents, or both. Either way, for our kids’ sake, we should be happy with our progress.