Little Big League

Little League coaches hold a special place in our spring and summer memories. It’s been this way since Lundy Lumber – coached by George and Bert Bebble – won the first Little League baseball game played back in 1939.

I’m not saying things haven’t changed since ol’ George and Bert.

My little league coach smelled like Dewers, chain-smoked like a champ, and paid us in cash for singles, doubles and triples. (“Home runs,” he always said, “are their own reward.”) But he also loved baseball, and would speak passionately to us about hitting our cutoff man or laying down the perfect bunt. He was a storyteller – and when I look back, I’m certain that no barstool conversation ever gave him the kind of satisfaction that he got from teaching a bench full of wide-eyed sluggers about legging out a triple.

Vices aside, most of my fellow Little League coaches cherish the same things about the games that my old coach did. It’s what keeps us showing up each spring – despite a brutal lineup of cold Saturdays that promise heavy doses of weeding, raking, digging and designing.

Why the commitment? I mean, coaching basketball merely requires a properly inflated ball.

It’s because Little League is a hometown in itself…where everyone knows each other. It’s a place where locals still stop by just to catch a game and parents, whose children have grown, return just to grab a burger and cheer for the old team. You can spot their smiles all the way from center field.

It’s where a shy right-fielder can go from cautious to unstoppable in just one season. It’s where the seasoned sixth-graders jog out to their positions looking like real Major Leaguers, and eight year-old pitchers look like little gingerbread men on the mound. It’s where daydreaming outfielders resemble statues as line drives buzz over their heads, and where a tough-as-nails second baseman can help win the World Series with a sliding catch that could crack the Sportscenter Top Ten. Where else can a catcher ask out of a game because his “butt itches.”

It’s where the coaches and their current Little League parents work together to announce games, run the concessions, and help find little brothers and sisters who have snuck off to play under the stands.

And yes, the hot and dusty dog days do eventually arrive – when a stat line of six walks, six wild pitches, and one sunburn can find one wondering if this “slow and boring” game is worth it. But just in time, the playoffs arrive, and the nightly match-ups are the talk of the town.

Coaches, dads, and big brothers line up along the fence to see who’s going to have the big inning. Moms huddle together in real-time support groups. And when the championship game ends with a wild, two-run, two-error triple, and players pour out onto the field in celebration, the scene is unforgettable. In the chaos of the trophies and discounted cheeseburgers, the remaining coaches shake hands, click off the scoreboard for another season, and keep it simple: See you next spring. 

Tim Piai

Tim Piai is a freelance writer living in Rocky River.

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Volume 3, Issue 11, Posted 3:43 PM, 05.05.2016