The Little Slugger
I was driving home from an appointment on a Saturday afternoon a few years ago, and decided to swing by the local Little League field to see who was playing.
The two big diamonds were empty, but the two smaller diamonds had games going on. Younger kids, our local league's 8- and 9-year-olds, were playing, and given that it was early June, I knew it must be playoffs.
I parked my car and got out. Judging by the intensity of the fans, the game to my right was at critical mass.
The bases were loaded. I heard a fan on the side of the team in the field holler, "Just one more out!"
Up to the plate marched a Little Slugger. From the reaction of the fans behind the Little Slugger's bench, big things were expected from him, and he delivered. His high fly to left center fell untouched and all the runners scooted around the bases and scored. The Little Slugger beamed as he stood on second base.
On the next pitch, the Little Slugger took off for third. The throw from the catcher easily had him beat, so he retreated to second base, only to be tagged out by the second baseman on a good throw from third.
Season over for the losing team.
I didn't notice the celebration going on by the winners. My eyes were fixed on the Little Slugger as he trudged to his bench, crying his eyes out.
When it was time for the teams to shake hands the Little Slugger couldn't bring himself to go through the "good-game" line, he was so disconsolate.
His coaches tried to encourage him to join in, but he couldn't. They even tried to lift him up, as if to give him the strength to proceed, but his body went limp like a sack of potatoes. I even walked over in hopes to cheer the lad up, and he damn near got me to crying, he was so distraught.
I headed over to check out the other game. It ended uneventfully.
About 15 minutes later, as I headed back to my car to leave, I noticed an impromptu game going on at the same spot where the first two teams had played. By my count, there were 10 kids, no parents, and evidently, no bats or balls. The pitcher wound up and threw an imaginary ball to the batter, who swung mightily at it (with his imaginary bat), and proceeded to circle the bases.
When he reached home, his teammates were all there to greet him with high-fives and smiles.
It was the Little Slugger. He had healed quickly.
The pages of this newspaper have done a good job throughout the school year detailing the exploits of young players in our area.
For some, their seasons ended in triumph, crowned as champions. For many more, their seasons (and for some, their careers) ended less gloriously, some with a called strike three, or a missed bucket at the buzzer, or the clang of a penalty kick bouncing off the goal post.
For those whose season failed to finish with a storybook ending, here's hoping you remember (and are remembered for) your effort and your successes.
And here's hoping you all heal as quickly as the Little Slugger did.