The game was intense.
The starting pitcher had trouble with command from the get-go and the results were nasty. There were wild pitches all over the place and the opposition ran with abandon. There were a lot of walks and a few hit batters. That translated into five or six unearned runs and so, come the late innings the home team was in a heck of a hole.
I chewed my fingers down to nubs. I covered my eyes and shook my fists. I might have sworn a few dozen times and I’m pretty sure I kicked a paper cup hard enough to knock it into the next county.
The 2007 Red Sox? The 2014 Royals?
Nope. We’re talking a team of Little League-age girls from Lewiston squaring off against a team from Skowhegan.
Little League! Girls! Little League girls!
It might have been the best baseball I’ve watched all summer and I’m not really sure what to make of that. For nine innings, I was a pacing mess of a sports fan, as tense as some poor slob who puts his mortgage payment down on the long-shot Marlins.
It’s baffling, really. I knew a total of one girl on the team and one parent in the bleachers. Had the game gone badly, I wouldn’t have had to put up with the young lady’s sulking and moping. She ain’t my kid. Emotionally, I had very little invested, so why did I care? Why, somewhere around the eighth inning, had I become desperate enough that I was seriously considering putting on a wig and some fake eyelashes so I could dash onto the field and help the team?
It’s a baseball thing, and in large part, a nostalgia thing.
If you’re a grown-up 20 years past his own Little League glory, you’re probably suffering vivid flashbacks. For me, watching kids play organized baseball is a direct means of time travel. Forget those wee ones on the field in late July 2015, for me it was suddenly 1980-something and I was being brought in to pitch in the championship game against Dunkin’-freakin’-Donuts.
Just you never mind how I pitched in that game. I tell you, there was something wrong with the mound and I’m pretty sure the balls were doctored. Plus, I was just getting over a really bad head cold, so just you shut up about that championship game and the great shame that followed.
When you watch Little League, it’s baseball in its purest form. There are no million-dollar contracts to consider; no commercial deals or celebrity scandals. At this level, kids want to win because winning is better than losing, not because they are hoping for a seven-figure trade.
At this age, there IS crying in baseball, whether it’s because you grounded into a game-ending double play or you took a line drive to the ear. In Little League, passion for the game is at its peak. It’s uncontaminated by things like greed and politics. There ARE politics in play, of course, but you’ll find it in the bleachers, not on the field. When it comes to Little League baseball, watching the parents can be as entertaining as watching the scoreboard.
Little Jimmy’s mother is convinced that the coach isn’t playing her son because the lad comes from a Republican household.
Sally’s dad thinks his little princess should play a full nine innings even if she tends to run from the ball rather than try to catch it. He IS a city councilor, after all.
Allison’s mom thinks Yolanda’s mom is spreading vicious rumors about her.
Rudy’s dad is wondering where the heck the scouts are — baseball isn’t about having fun, by God. It’s about career advancement.
Annie’s mom wonders if Sally’s dad is single.
And so on. Whereas the kids on the field will pout, scream and cry over things like stolen bases, hard slides and ground-rule doubles, a good number of the parents react emotionally for all the wrong reasons.
Not all of them, though. At this nail-biter in Sidney, I was blessed to be sitting near some parents who were all about the game, including one 30-something woman who opined, and I quote: “Boy, the defense is really going to have to pull itself together if we want to keep this one within reach.”
Not to mention some kid’s uncle or grandfather who managed to utter the exact words that resided in my head at the very same moment: “Why would you bunt right there? We’re not playing for one run, we need a whole bunch! Gee willickers, ladies, let’s not give them free outs.”
Not to worry. The Lewiston team came back with a hailstorm of runs in the eighth, with every girl on the team contributing in one way or another, regardless of social standing or the marital status of their mothers and fathers. It was a joyous thing, a fairy tale comeback story, and I may have shrieked a time or two. That’s just good baseball right there and, while you feel for the kids on the losing side, you just can’t beat the pride of the Lewiston resilience.
The final score? Beats me. For reasons that were never made clear, they don’t use scoreboards at this level of baseball, not even in the postseason. Trying to deduce whether it’s 24-22 home team, or 26-24 visitors in the late innings is just part of the fun that is youth baseball.
I blame Sally’s dad. He IS, after all, a city councilor.
Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer. Rudy’s dad and Annie’s mom can email him at [email protected]