KEVIN RIDOLFI, a graphic designer and web programmer from Pawtucket, Rhode Island, is the creator and editor of Renaissance Online Magazine.
As a former Little League coach, I have seen baseball in its purest and most basic form. A comedy of errors, yes, but that's not the point. For even at this miniature level, baseball is a beautiful thing.
Coaching Little League is an amazing and eye-opening experience for the expanse between a ten-year-old on the mound with his ears sticking awkwardly from beneath his cap and a spoiled, overpaid and underachieving player complaining about receiving only a $30,000 raise can't be calculated. Joy and excitement follows these young boys and girls around after the first day of practice as they show off their new Bob's Pizza or Landry's Oil hats. The pros can't even be bothered to show up to work out in the off season.
We finished with the best record in Little League's minors that year. Of course the win/loss record matters more to the parents and coaches than it seems to matter to the kids. Kids at this age play baseball to play a game, something their parents forget. Little League isn't the time to live vicariously through each of your kid's trips to the plate. It's the time to wonder what in the world would make the left fielder sit down in the middle of an inning to play with the grass strands. Imagine Albert Belle doing that - then again imagine Belle playing for free in a uniform that falls off when he runs.
We saw that during that fine season as well. Our first baseman, a skinny kid without much to say, beat out a ground ball but left something in the base path behind him. All of the adults watched in amusement as he trotted back to pick up a protective cup that had somehow managed to escape down the leg of his pants. Hey, but that's not too different from the pros. Steve "Psycho" Lyons pulled his pants down at first base in Chicago and calmly dusted off his sliding pants then redressed himself.
I always used to wonder when I was younger what would happen if an athlete had to use the bathroom while in the middle of a game. You never see it happen. I don't know if these guys have some high-tech large capacity bladder, but some of those innings can stretch pretty long. In case you're wondering, Little Leaguers follow the age-old philosophy "when ya gotta go, ya gotta go." The left fielder on one of the opposing teams proved that by running panic-stricken off the field in the middle of an inning to use the facilities. The inning was postponed when his coach realized that there was suddenly a giant gap in his defense. The kid came back as quickly as he left, bent over, picked his glove up and patted it twice for effect. Ready to play again like nothing had happened.
This is baseball as a game. The Major League is baseball as big business. Little League is the catcher not wanting to catch because it's too hot with all that equipment on. The players on the bench are more concerned with getting frequent drinks from the water cooler than with the loaded bases and full count. Who sits next to whom on the bench is, to them, as important as who is starting at second for the first three innings. I'm pretty certain that no player in the history of major league baseball has ever requested a trade because he didn't get to sit next to his best friend in the dug out.
I'm also pretty certain that most Little League players have more fun playing baseball as a game. Playing baseball their way (with the help of the coaches' pleading instructions of course).
That's Little League and the spirit of baseball. Innocence. Kids outside in the sun. The rite of spring.
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