Little League catch makes big impressionThe game is over, but one little guy is still waiting to be picked up. I see him sitting there, cap cocked to the side, jersey too big for his frame, the dirty white pants, and his giant bat bag with two bat handles sticking out one end, his bag bigger than he is. He looks as if he played a hard game but there’s nothing in his demeanor that suggests a win or a loss.
By: Tony Auer, Lake County News Chronicle
The game is over, but one little guy is still waiting to be picked up. I see him sitting there, cap cocked to the side, jersey too big for his frame, the dirty white pants, and his giant bat bag with two bat handles sticking out one end, his bag bigger than he is. He looks as if he played a hard game but there’s nothing in his demeanor that suggests a win or a loss.
As teammates and opposing players walk by, there is the traditional slap of the glove and the congratulatory, “Good game — see you next week.” I am saddened by the thought that mom and dad weren’t there to see the little hero in action and to share in all that had just transpired.
This is the last year of eligibility for my 14-year-old grandson who has played baseball at the Encino Little League field in the Los Angeles area since he was 3, and when this season is over I probably will miss these fields and these moments more than he will. I’ve gone to all his games over all those years.
Back when he was younger, I would sit in the stands and realize that each team had 12 players but on our side there were families from only six or seven of the kids in the stands. Games were on Saturday mornings. I feel badly for the parents who have to work and can’t be a part of this incredible game.
Little League Baseball truly is played on a field of dreams. Watching these little guys, you witness in one inning the triumph of being champion of the world and the anguish of blowing the World Series. There’s no crying in baseball unless you get hit with an errant pitch or you skin your knee when sliding into home, but I cry in the stands for the little guy who gets his first base hit, a grounder just over second base, and there is no mom or dad in the stands to go crazy and share the moment.
When the proud hero, safe on first in dirty, baggy pants, looks up into the stands and there is no mom or dad there to receive high-fives from the other parents, the little guy is bursting with joy but his two favorite people aren’t there to share it.
Little League baseball brings out the best in kids and teaches them lessons they’ll carry with them for the rest of their lives. The words I write are a cliché but the reality of the experience is true. These kids play as much for the moment as for the game.
A high pop-up is hit into center field. The fielder watches it rise off the bat and into the blue sky. He positions himself, raises his glove, and waits as the ball arcs and begins its violent descent. The glove is checked, the feet are repositioned, and the wait continues while everything his coaches taught him rushes through his head. The eyes and mind are focused on nothing but the descending dot that grows larger and larger and comes faster and faster.
By this time the hitter is halfway to first, but you mustn’t think about that. For a moment there’s nothing else in the world but your glove and the ball ... and the wait.
Whap! There’s nothing like the sound of leather on leather as that well-oiled personal favorite snares the stitched orb from its trajectory. And with that sound, all other sights and sounds return cheers from the stands and your teammates, and the sight of so much jumping and clapping.
“Ah, it was nothing. I do it all the time,” thinks the blushing hero. The seeds of confidence have been planted and begin to sprout in a 10-year-old heart.
That catch didn’t change the world and perhaps didn’t even change the outcome of the game. But for this little guy that moment was the most beautiful and the most perfect moment in his entire life. He faced a challenge that required the implementation of all his talents and skills, he faced a moment for which hours on the practice field had prepared him, and now all practice, talent and skill come together to create memory, confidence and a feeling that will last a lifetime.
When mom and dad are present, every game warrants a celebration. A hamburger or a kosher dog from the snack stand, with fries, is about as good as it gets. There’s more play and running around to do with friends, good friends who have been teammates for longer than anyone can remember.
The instant replay of the game is presented by teammates, parents and an occasional Papa or Nana, all presenting their interpretation of the phenomenal catch in center field, well-documented and only slightly gilded.
I watch the child waiting for the ride and long to buy him a hamburger and talk about his game. I think that’s what mom or dad will do on the way home. On the way home they’ll stop for pizza someplace and share the story of all that happened, the first strike out, the two-base hit, and the slide at home plate that only hurt a little bit but we can put a Band-Aid on it when we get home.
“How’s the pizza?”
“Good. You should have seen the catch I made in center field....”
The 2012 Little League Season has just begun. Another season of triumphs, heroes, victories and disappointments. Another season of life, a celebration of youth, played on crushed brick and grass. For this old Papa, it doesn’t get any better than that.
Tony Auer grew up in Silver Bay and is a 1963 graduate of William Kelley High School. He is a freelance writer and photographer in the Los Angeles area.
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