Wednesday, June 11, 2008


For real this time.

When we arrived at the field the other coach asked if we were still undefeated.

"I don't know how these rumors get started," said Coach P.

"I'll take that as a yes," said the other coach.

The other team was a good one, having lost only a game or two of their own. We were throwing our three best pitchers, however, and when we jumped to a big early lead, we felt pretty confident, enough so that we started talking about whether we could let one of our less experienced guys get some time on the mound in the last inning.

Ah, hubris. With my son pitching in the second to last inning, the other team began to hit. We tell our pitchers it's not their job to strike out the side, that the fielders have to make plays. That's easy to say after we've won a game. It's harder to tell myself that when ground balls are getting booted and fly balls getting dropped.

By the last inning there were runners on second and third, and my kid was bumping up against his maximum pitch count with only one out and the other team down by three runs.

"He can pitch one more batter," said Coach P. "Then I have to take him out. Think we should bring in Z.?"

"Sure," I replied. "He usually does a nice job."

Just then, the batter popped one up to first, where Coach P.'s son was playing. The boy made the catch and looked across the diamond, where the baserunner had left at the crack of the bat and headed for home without tagging up. Coach P.'s son tossed the ball to the third baseman, plenty of time to beat the runner back to the base to double him up and end the game. The third baseman reached for the ball. It hit his glove. And bounced off. It rolled into foul territory and the runner scuttled back, safe. Two outs now but we had to change pitchers.

Coach P. walked to the mound to make the switch. As he did, a ball whizzed past him, almost hitting my kid in the ankle. The boy got his glove down just in time to grab it.

Coach P. turned around and looked at the third baseman. Mad at himself for having missed the double play, he'd apparently decided to work it out by throwing the ball as hard as he could back to the pitcher.

"Get on the bench," Coach P. told him. The third baseman stalked to the side and was replaced by the kid whose turn it had been to sit that inning. I sat down on the bench next to the kid. He was crying.

"You can't do that," I told him. "It's okay to be frustrated. It's not okay to throw a ball like that. You could hurt someone."

The boy stared straight ahead, in no mood to talk. Coach P. finished getting the new pitcher squared away and came over.

"Don't ever do that again," he told the kid. "You'll hurt someone."

The boy continued to stare straight ahead. I walked over to where his parents were sitting.

"We had to take him out," I told them. "He's too frustrated to play right now."

"He'll be fine," said his mother. "Don't worry about it."

Our new pitcher finished warming up and the game resumed. Before long the runners had scored, cutting our lead to one, and the other team had a man on first. Their next batter walked to the plate.

"Crap," I said.

It was the other team's best player. One of the better players in the league, in fact. Also one of the more problematic. Convinced their son is nature's gift to baseball and that anything that goes against him is the result of a vast conspiracy, his parents have been permanently banned from a park in a neighboring city because of their behavior and they've been temporarily kicked out of a couple of ours for the same reason. As one might expect, their attitude has worn off on their son and he struts around a baseball field as though everyone owes him the adulation he gets at home.

He certainly strutted to the plate this time. With the tying run on first, it was hero time. His mother beamed from behind the backstop, where she waited for her Zeus to deliver to her one more moment of glory.

Our pitcher reared back and delivered. The batter made contact, a hard ground ball to the left side. My son, now playing shortstop, moved toward the ball. As he did, the third baseman, the boy who'd been sitting on the bench at the start of the inning, cut him off, bending down to snare the ball, then standing, turning, pumping once, and making the throw to first to beat the runner by a step for the out and the game.

The batter looked like he was going to cry. So did his mother. His father, absent from tonight's game, would undoubtedly look the same when he heard the story. It was very sad.

Meanwhile, our team pounded the third baseman on the back as they walked off the field. When he got to the bench I pulled him aside and said, "Nice play. I'm going to adopt you and you can move to my house and I'll buy you an Xbox 360 and a Wii."

He grinned. So did his dad. My son said, "Cool."

"Don't get too excited," I told my boy. "You don't get to use them. You can watch him play, though."

"Shut up, dad," he said.

When we lined up to shake hands with the other team, their coach and players were gracious. Except for the problem child, of course. While his teammates shook hands and congratulated us, he scowled and silently and grudgingly extended his own hand.

On the way to the car I asked Coach P., "Is it wrong for me to get so much pleasure from winning this way?"

"If it's wrong," he said, "I don't want to be right."


Jennifer said...

Oh, that sounds glorious!!

Brando said...

Nice win. I played LL with a lot of Zeus-types -- they seem particularly common in baseball.

Adorable Girlfriend said...

Another good night of ball and lessons to be learned.