May 23, 2011

Oh yeah! The Boy can Play!

This year, Kyle joined Little League Baseball where the ball is thrown by a catapult-like machine. His team has done great, finishing second place overall in the league. He is currently in the 7-8 year old bracket, which is about the time you see them start to be able to actually catch and throw the ball. He just started playing last spring. Kyle is a great batter, rarely striking out. He is also a fast runner, thanks at least partly due to his oldest sister, Elizabeth and his competitive spirit. Ever since he was big enough to run, he has been trying to beat her in races. Of course, because she has always had longer legs, she only loses if I 'rig' the race. Until he started racing against kids his own age, I am sure he was frustrated at how slow he was in spite of my attempts to explain that longer legs give a person an advantage in running.

At the beginning of the season, the games usually involved more offense than defense, with the kids still trying to figure out where to throw the ball and how to throw the ball and how to catch the ball. In fact, on our team, some of the kids figured it was safer trying to outrun the runner to the base rather than risk the other kid dropping the ball. Sometime around the beginning of May, however, the practices and games paid off as the baseball instinct kicked in and you could see kids taking their time before throwing the ball to a base to make sure that it actually would be catchable and know that they could still be able to get the runner out. We have seen kids on all teams make awesome catches of fly balls, and awesome throws to a baseman to get a runner out. We have also witnessed some absolutely crazy plays, like the time one of our kids scored a run by running from third base when the ball was barely nicked into play and the catcher was holding the ball a foot from home plate as he ran behind her. That "miracle run" created momentum in last Saturday's game for us to be able to come from behind to win against the team who entered the tournament in first place, and, like us, lost their opening tournament game.

Last night, we witnessed a wonderful (for us), if not miraculous, come-from-behind victory. It was the last game before the championship game. We had lost the first round of a double elimination tournament because our bats went cold and our defense was a little on the sloppy side. This game, the third since our last loss, started out okay. It was pretty obvious, however, that the team we were playing was incredibly savvy at base running. In one inning, they had a guy on second base stay when the ball was hit to the third baseman and then run to third after the third baseman threw it to first to get the runner out. The first baseman made a beautiful catch, his feet just barely touching home plate, his arm and body stretched out as far as they could to catch the ball right before the runner's feet touched the base. There were a couple of other plays in favor of the other team during the game that seemed to be questionable, but the Little League commissioner was there and, of course, if he didn't object, we shouldn't either. The kids were getting frustrated and starting to miss plays. Our coaches who are really great at being laid back or even joking to break up any tension from a bad play or strike out, just kept encouraging the kids to play their best and not worry about being down. At the bottom of the third inning, as our team came up to bat, the other team was winning 14 to 3.

Most of the parents on our team were shouting encouraging things to our kids but secretly, most of them were thinking, like me, that it had been a good season and that finishing third was very respectable. Somehow, in spite of racking up two outs with no one on a base, we managed to get six runs, bringing the score to 14 to 9. The fourth inning passed with the score 16 to 15. Once again, we had scored six runs with two outs. We were really close to the time limit for ending the game. If it had taken a minute longer to end the inning, the game would have ended and we would have lost. However, we had one more minute and our team took advantage of the rule. The other team tried to protest, but the commissioner upheld the ruling and told them to get ready to bat. So far, neither team had been able to consistently make defensive plays to prevent the other team from racking up points. However, we managed to get the first batter out with a beautiful throw by the pitcher to first base. They put two or three runners on the base. The next batter hit a line drive that our short stop caught in mid-air. After taking a second or two to realize that he did indeed have it, he ran to second base to get the third out. No runs had been scored in the inning. All we had to do was make two runs to win the game.

At this point, all the parents on our team were beside themselves with renewed hope, jangled nerves, and a rush of adrenaline. I couldn't sit still. I had brought knitting with me, like I did almost every game because it helps me stay calm, but my hands were shaking too much to be able to knit. I suddenly realized that this was probably exactly how Eric felt each time the nurses told him that our baby was ready to exit the birth canal. He would get so excited and agitated that they would make him sit down for fear of him fainting with excitement. The first batter managed to get on base. The second hitter struck out. Kyle was next. As he was waiting for the first pitch, Eric called out, "Hit it and then run as if Elizabeth was trying to catch you." He hit the ball to first base and ran as fast as he could, even though he would most likely get an out. However, the first baseman bobbled the ball, causing it to bounce off the outfielder's glove and roll close to the fence. Kyle made it to first with no problem and then, because the fielder still had not gained control over the ball near the fence at first, ran to second base. Someone in on the opposing team threw it wildly, causing the ball to go over the third baseman's head, which allowed Kyle to advance to third automatically (one of the league rules). The runner on second had already scored and we had tied the game. The next batter hit a beautiful, uncaught line drive into the outfield, bringing Kyle home for the game-winning run. The parents were on their feet, jumping up and down, laughing and crying. The kids on the bench and on the bases were at first confused when their coaches told them to stop playing until they explained that they had just won the game. Then their excitement and joy matched that of their parents. So tonight, we get to go the the same ballfield, at the same time as last night and play the team that beat us in the first game of the championship series. If we win tomorrow night, we have to play them one more time on Wednesday night to be able to claim the championship. If we lose tomorrow, we will still be number two and the other team, who started out the championship series in last place, will be first.

I am so proud of how all the boys, especially my son, have grown in confidence, skills, and grace as the season has progressed. I have learned a lot from the coaches about how to stay cool and graceful under pressure. They rarely pester the kids, like some of the other coaches and when a kid makes a mistake, they gently give guidance, sometimes making it humorous, to help the kid learn from their mistake. Whatever happens tonight or even possibly, Wednesday night, everyone on our team can walk away proud of what they have accomplished.

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