Tournament time, and a whole new stress level. If you lose you're done and if you win, you play another day.
No -- it's not the World Series. It's not even the Little League World Series. It's just a team of nine- and ten-year-old boys, who've played together for a couple months, and want to play together a couple games more.
The sweet summer night stretches long, more than long enough for six innings of baseball. There are more spectators than usual, since any game could be the last for a season, more grampas and grammas and neighbors and kids from other teams and a coach or two scouting. Flash of a camera more often. The cheers are a little louder, the applause a little longer. The coaches coach a little harder, the kids chatter more in the dugout and on the field. There's an edge in air and everybody feels it.
Our team has practiced hard and improved all year and tonight it shows. We jump on their little pitcher early and often and take a 5-0 lead by the third. By the time the other coach pulls the pitcher, he's crying. I want to hug him.
In the next inning we score a couple more runs and have kids on first and second. There's a solid hit to center field but given the shaky nature of fielding at this age, our coaches send the runners on around. Julian gets thrown out at the plate, the tag just kissing his leg. Even with our lead, he feels terrible and hides his face on the way back to the dugout.
If I hadn't already raised a boy who learned most of his life lessons through baseball, I might question, why put your kid through this? Why care so much? Why the pressure on this young kids? Isn't this supposed to be fun?
I know the answers, now. It's hard to watch your kid, sometimes, play ball--they try, they fail; they get a hit, they make an out; they get hit by pitches and miss fly balls and win games and lose games. I don't think a heliocopter parent could survive baseball. But I wasn't any kind of aircraft parent, and let Tony enjoy and suffer all that baseball could bring him, from the time he was five to the time he graduated from college. And he's a better grownup for it--he knows how to win and lose, how to be a team player, how to lead, how to be a good sport. He know how to coach and how to take coaching.
Most of these little boys won't play baseball as long, but I know what they will remember, and it won't be the strikout or the dropped ball. It'll be the fun they had on the bench, the snacks after the game, and just maybe, a particularly tough loss or good win. Or maybe not.
We win the game, and go on to play another day. If the other team seems a little subdued as the teams shake hands after, it doesn't last long. We're chatting away after when I notice the kids on field--the game's over, but the field is still filled with kids. It's kids from both team--burgandy jerseys and yellow, and a bunch of little sisters and brothers, and now there're all running the bases, starting at home plate and running round and round, racing each other and laughing, big kids and little ones, arms in the air, dancing, filling the diamond with laughter, no telling the difference between the kids who won the game and those who didn't.
'Cause there's not.