As readers of this feature know, my kids love to play baseball, but that hasn’t always meant success on the field. After Ben’s Brewers suffered a 14-5 loss to the league-leading Nationals on Thursday, the kids’ respective teams were a combined 0-14. Now it’s June and apparently things have changed. And how.
First, Maria’s Rockies got off the schneid, defeating the Cubs 6-3 on Friday night under a light mist at Lambert Park in Mounds View. The Cubs had previously mopped the floor with our Rockies in the season opener, something like 12-0, so the progress our charges have made are nothing short of phenomenal. Maria made a nice play at 3rd base and hit a few loud foul balls, which represents personal progress, while some of her teammates made some really nice plays, especially for a bunch of 7 year olds. Maria’s squad has a marathon of baseball ahead this week, with games on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at various ballparks in the north metro.
Then we have the Brewers. It was AL Classic weekend, the annual mid-season tournament in which all 12 squads play in a double-elimination format that means the kids can play up to four games in one day, assuming they keep winning. Since Ben’s team was winless entering the tournament, I assumed I would be home early in the afternoon and would spend the rest of the day mowing the lawn. Nope. Something changed on Saturday and our winless lads suddenly became world-beaters. The first game started out in typical fashion, with the Brew Crew losing a tough game to the Mariners, 4-2, at Wilson Park in Shoreview. Our pitching held up well but the kids were not able to eke out enough runs. That sent the kids into the losers’ bracket. We packed up the car and went over to Sitzer Park, where we faced the Nationals, who had somehow managed to get beaten earlier. With the recent loss to the Nats fresh in their minds, the kids jumped out to an early 4-0 lead and then held on to win their first game of the season, 4-2. The win knocked the Nats out of the tournament, much to their shock. That meant another game quickly thereafter, again at Sitzer, against the Rangers, the team that we’d lost a heartbreaker to earlier in the season. The pitching again was superb and the suddenly red-hot Brew Crew won again, this time 2-1.
The lawn was now going to wait. Amazingly, our kids would play their fourth game of the day, this time against the Athletics, one of the better teams on the eastern side of the league. Our kids, suddenly filled with success, immediately jumped out to a 7-3 lead after one inning. Then the rain came; lots and lots of rain, with a spectacular lightning show and even a few blasts of the weather siren. The game was suspended until the next day and we sought shelter from the storm.
Sunday arrived, cloudy and drizzly, but it usually takes a lot more than drizzle to stop Little League baseball in my area, so we returned to Sitzer Park at 10:30 a.m. The kids continued to play well, eventually defeating the Athletics 9-6. Ben managed to steal home in the final inning, which proved to be a key insurance run. This was the first time he had ever stolen home and he did it with a dramatic slide that got his foot on the plate just a moment before the catcher could apply the tag.
Next were the Dodgers. It may have been only 1 p.m. in the Central time zone, but it was midnight for our lads, as the Dodgers overpowered our game but tired kids, 9-3. We had used up all of our regular pitchers on Saturday and because Little League sensibly enforces a mandatory pitch count, we had to use a kid with limited experience and we got a not-too-surprising result. But by winning 3 games in the tournament, the kids finished in 4th place, which meant they all earned trophies. You will rarely see a prouder group of boys than these blue-clad Brewers.
When I was a kid, I was pretty lucky –every baseball team I played with was successful. Three times I played on teams that won championships. I didn’t have a lot to do with their success, but I always played with talented teammates. So far, Ben and Maria haven’t had that experience. The cliché is that the game is the most important thing, and that winning and losing shouldn’t matter that much, but every kid I’ve ever known strongly prefers winning, even the kids in Maria’s age group. You can see a lot of ugliness in youth sports, especially from parents and coaches who value winning too much and cut ethical corners to achieve success. Both Ben and Maria’s coaches refuse to do that and I admire both of them for their stance. Still, you like to see the kids learn how to compete successfully. You cannot avoid competition in this world. And this weekend, both kids tasted success. My suspicion is they’ll like it.