When I think back to little league, the first image that comes to mind is a family friend flinging a bat across an empty field during a heated dispute with another coach.
I revisited this distinct culture of little league some time ago. The diamond seemed so tiny to me, complete with yellow tubing around the outfield fence, one-hundred-and-eighty feet down the lines. Parental chatter expressed nervousness and feigned baseball expertise. The concessions were well-stocked with various forms of sugar, salt, and fat.
The first pitcher could not have stood an inch over four-feet tall as he toed the freshly-painted rubber. Play started predictably with three pitches nowhere near the strike zone. “That was at his eyes!” a father screamed at the umpire after the first-called strike. Maybe correct, but he’s probably never sweated (as I have, too many times) inside umpire equipment, watching little guys try so hard to hit the strike zone. When the pitcher finally finds his groove, infield hits turn into triples after throwing errors that seem so perennial.
As you get older, outfield assignments become less of an insult – the likes of Willie Mays and Barry Bonds played the outfield – but in little league, the positions seem like purgatory: players wait endlessly for action, earning their way to the Paradise of the batter’s box (or at least the line for the concession stand after the game).
I remember my dad’s driving off in anger while my little sister played t-ball. “If they’re not old enough to play the game right, they shouldn’t be playing at all!” he would say. He also coached a couple of my championship teams and always attributed our success to the Almighty’s Providence.
I wonder how many of these kids like to play versus how many play solely because it serves as a de facto babysitting service. Would they rather be chasing butterflies?
But I still hold onto hope that these little players will learn to love this historical game and that it will develop in them the kind of resilience one needs in order to survive in this world. I hope they see a game at Fenway someday, and that the Chicago Cubs win a World Series in their lifetime. And most of all, may the lessons learned, friendships made, and victories won somehow outweigh the bats flung across the field by arguing adults.