An Anachronism? or “Déjà Vu All Over Again”??
Bad News Bears Meet Sandlot at Phil Johnson 2021: A True Story of LOVE of the Game
In the late 1940s a little kid found a Topps baseball card on the street on his way home from school. He took that card to his dad and asked him what it was and what it meant. His dad said that it was a baseball card of Phil Rizzuto of the NY Yankees, aka the “The Scooter”. The little boy asked what baseball was, and his dad gave him a very brief explanation, and then gave him an old ball and a wooden glove..yes, a wooden one..made out of an old piece of plywood(from an old mold…the dad was a statue maker)with a cloth garden glove stapled on the back. After, a short game of catch(the lil boy was not getting the idea so well), the dad told him to throw the ball against the garage door and catch it. The boy did and after a while found that this was a ton of fun and wanted more. Long story short, the little boy was dropped off at the city park at age 6 to play Rec baseball with kids ranging from 6-12; all on the same teams/fields. Sandlot? No, as there were “coaches” and baseball was played with wood bats(one size fits all) and old Reach baseballs(many with almost any seams left on them). He had his wood glove, an old repaired bat(nails/glue/tape), his new Dutch Boy painter’s hat(not cap), and was ready to go; and go he went!!!!!!.A lifelong romance with the greatest game began, and the little kid can still not get the game out of his mind/system at the age of 78!!
Memorial Day 2021 was a flashback to the little OLD kid, with the creation of the TBA 10 and Under baseball team that played in the Heroes of Everett youth baseball tourney.
With everyone so infatuated with VELO, launch angle, Big and Little Hack, WHIF, WAR and other analytics, there was a two-day time travel to the old-school days of youth baseball. The annual FirstSwing tournament was scheduled and ready to go when a 10U team had to bow out on Friday, a week before the first game. After begging, cajoling, and bribing other teams, the tourney director was still stuck with only 7 teams in the 10U bracket. With all the required covid precautions and state protocols, 7 would make a mess of an orderly and efficient tourney. It would cause confusion, extra monies, and potential logistical ills. Hence, the staff decided to “build a team” on Monday…the goal? Find 9 kids, a coach, and hopefully fill that 8th slot. A miracle maybe, but definitely a long shot! By late that night they had one player; by Tuesday they had a coach and 3 players, and by Thursday the team consisted of 10 players who did not know each other but really wanted to play ball…necessity truly is the mother of invention. Since the slot was already labeled TBA, the team gladly adopted the name and were told to meet at 7:30am on Sunday, the day of the first game. By Saturday the team had 14 different players, but not all would be at each game(4 in total). The team added two more “coaches” and then realized they did not know if they had any pitchers or catchers…?? So be it!
Sunday, promptly at 7:15am(everyone got there early ready to play), 11 players(one without a cup) and two coaches showed up. A few of the team had met, but basically it was a group of kids just wanting to play ball. They were “decked out” in various jerseys, hats, pants and socks…they looked like a MLB All Star team from the 1950s, without an ace for the mound or a Yogi for behind the dish! The coaches quickly filled the lineup card by asking who could do what…and the FUN began. Of course, the first game was against a select team that was “loaded” and very well coached. With a deep sigh, the TBA pitcher threw his first pitch and… Actually, the foe did load the bases in the first, but the TBA catcher, a little lefty(oh, remember Dale Long/Mike Squires!) picked the runner off first and shut down the threat. However, the TBA’ers did score two runs, but the rest of the game was dominated by the more experienced and organized team. After the game, the smiles on the TBA players were an indication that they really would not worry about winning, but just playing and having fun! They had no expectations, had not been working all winter, had not spent endless hours on the practice diamond together, so “let’s just play ball!” And they sure did. The second game was immediately after the first one and VOILA! They started with a bang and were ahead most of the game….and in the end TBA won!!!
The most important factor in the creation/development of TBA was the attitude of the parents/families. Just like the little ballers, they had no expectations, were not infected with achievement proxy syndrome, did not “helicopter” around their player, nor did they fall into any of the prototypical over-zealous parental “types”. They just sat back, and like the players, were there for the love of the game and their kids! No yelling at the umps, no running over to their child and whispering “sweet nothings”, or telling the coaches what to do on every play! Yeow..they were like strangers in a strange land, and certainly an anomaly in today’s world of youth sports!! They all left the ballpark ready to return on Monday to play it out.
Everybody, to include tourney staff, had a smile on their face and did not think it could get any better than that!!! Did Rod Serling or W.P. Kinsella write this scenario? Or, can we really just play the game, have some fun, and watch kids try to figure this great game out??
THE MIRACLE ON TURF?
On Monday, the TBA team all showed up, with some new players(and parents) and a few of Sunday’s “heroes” gone. Again, the coaches set the lineup and sent them out on the diamond to play hard and have fun. And did they ever!!!! They won the third game with timely hits and some very good defense. With a record of 2-1 they were relegated to playing for third as the top two teams both had not lost a game…as if it really mattered. The team and parents did not even know how close they were to playing for a medal. The final game was a nip ‘n tuck affair with a very good team. The TBA team was ahead but the opponent tied them going into the last inning. TBA scored a run and now just had to hold on to win. An untimely walk and a stolen base, with no one out, put the outcome in peril. Two flyouts later, it got down to the last out..was Casey up or Rod Carew?? The runner on second tried to steal third and the TBA players got him in a rundown and BANG, tagged him out!! Game Over and Out! The fans, players, coaches, people just watching this little group of non-select youngsters playing for fun, went ballistic…was it the Miracle on Turf? Almost!…if Al Michaels had been there, he would have simply said…wow..how cool!! The TBA ball club finished 3-1 and had the second best record in the 10U bracket…no medal, but memories for a lifetime. Some have played for pizza, some have played for medals, but this little ball club played for fun and the opportunity to just play baseball. They played in a competitive tourney without the drama, pressure, or expectations of winning…just for the love of the game! What had begun as a pragmatic effort to save a youth tourney ended up turning into a great set of life lessons for youngsters, parents, families, and coaches. “Let’s Play Two!..right, Ernie?”
Will it ever happen again??? TBA
“Baseball cannot change the world, BUT, it can change a youngster’s life”