Thursday, September 27, 2012
Note: I posted this somewhere else when it actually was Little League season, but love this story, and this memory, and hope someone here might draw inspiration from it. Enjoy.
I was out driving around running errands on Saturday when one of the most magical sights filled my eyes. It was a Little League baseball field, and the kids playing were probably 6 or 7 years old. You can tell because the younger they are, the more cars there are there, and there could have been neighbors selling parking on their lawn at this game. It was packed.
Tee ball is the most adorable of Little League levels, mostly because the ball is seemingly only ever hit to the pitcher or shortstop, and the pitcher and shortstop are more interested in waving to mom, dad, or grandma than seeing that the ball has been hit. Most of them have no concept of out or safe, winning and losing, and if you are a coach who that matters to, you shouldn't be coaching tee ball anyway.
The game I saw was at the "coach pitch" level. It's called that even though they now have machines that actually throw the ball to make it fair. It teaches kids to hit a ball not sitting on a tee in front of them, and begins to teach them real baseball. As I recall (because I'm old and this was long ago), kids at this level sometimes have some skills, and the ones that do stand out.
And then my mind shifted to Eddie (and I know my dad totally watched me type that from heaven and mouthed it).
It was my first year too old for Little League. I was 13, and I asked my dad if I could be his coach since I couldn't play any more. He agreed and on the first day when we met the team, we also met a mom, It was Eddie' mom, and I remember that she was very apologetic for having signed Eddie up. He was mentally handicapped, and as she explained to my dad in a fashion that I will never forget as pleading with him to understand, she said she was desperate for something he could do with kids his age.
She could not have been more fortunate than to have my dad wind up with Eddie, because dad was "in" from the get-go. He had played baseball in college, loved the game, and even more than that, loved teaching the game the right way. He even used to get out in the street with my brothers, myself and our friends in the neighborhood and hold what became practices that taught us the game, yelling out situations - "runner on third, one out" - before throwing a fly ball to whoever's turn it was, and they had to make the right play.
Forgive me that this gets Rudyesque, but I swear every word is true.
At the first practice, every kid came up to bat, and Eddie was last. We hoped he would have learned something from watching the other kids, but quickly saw that what the other kids had done hadn't registered at all. He walked up and stood ON home plate. I remember putting my hands on his shoulders and easing him back into the batter's box, where hitters stand. I remember him smiling the whole time, and I can never forget that smile. It was ever-present, and probably made everything else possible.
When the pitch was thrown, he saw it, watched it pass, and swung, and when he did, he smiled again, like "I did it!"
Throughout the season, we worked with him at every chance, and still he never caught, or hit, a ball.
Here's where the Rudy comes in.
It was our final game, and the kids who were weaker players and had played half the game most of the year got to play the full game, except Eddie. Putting him in the path of a batted ball was a frightening proposition, so he always was a substitute.
It was late in the game when Eddie came up to bat. The pitcher threw the ball, and rather than wait until he heard it "pop" in the catcher's mitt to swing, which he had done all season with the big endearing smile, Eddie swung early -- AND HIT THE BALLI
It's almost anticlimactic what happened next, but I bet all the kids on the team, and all the parents, remember it. And yeah, that's probably completely romantic, wishful thinking on my part, but you know what? So what? Eddie hit the ball and IN FAIR TERRITORY!
Then he ran to third base, instead of first, smiling like he'd just won the World Series.
That only makes it more awesome.
We can do amazing things if we believe in ourselves. Start believing, ok?