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Take Me Out (of) The Ballgame!

By Jeffrey Bellant October 28, 2021 305

It’s World Series month, so it’s time for me to have traumatic flashbacks to my horrific years in Little League.

My brother’s tee-ball team went undefeated and got its picture in the local newspaper.

My team went 1-14.

I played during the pre-participation-trophy era. Those were the good old days. If you didn’t win first place, you didn’t get a trophy. (The way it should be, by the way).

Back then, if you stunk, you didn’t play much.

I could run, throw and field like nobody’s business.

But hitting?

Forget it.

That was a problem because nothing mattered if you couldn’t hit. Back then, they didn’t care about hurt feelings or self-esteem. If you couldn’t hit, you were relegated to playing two innings a game in right field, a ghost town where few balls were hit.

Not being able to hit was humiliating. Throw a beachball over the plate and I’d still miss. Everyone tried to help. Coaches, my dad and even my brother, who was a stud pitcher and hitter.

It wasn’t happening. But I survived.

In fact, years later, I returned to my old Little League field, helping my manager-brother coach his son’s team.

In today’s Little League, every kid plays and even if you aren’t in the field, you still get to bat.

Also, parents are worse than when I was young. Back then, you didn’t complain to a coach about your son’s playing time.

Not ever.

Now? My goodness. The sense of entitlement is crazy.

Despite it all, coaching was both more fun and more frustrating than playing.

I was our bench coach/scorekeeper. The problem was my brother had nicknames for every player on every team he ever coached.

So, when I wrote the line-up for the first game – to give to the opposing scorekeeper – I was baffled.

I didn’t know any of our kid’s actual names!

My brother’s murderer’s row included: Thunder, Lightning, Wheels, Cobra, Mamba, Beep-Beep, Sizzle, Hollywood, Shifty, Vac Man, Tie Rod, and Turbo, among others.

I eventually remembered their real names and they were a great group of kids for the most part. There were also some funny moments.

Like this one boy who was an ADHD poster child. We put him in right field, the safest place for him. But once a fly ball went his way, he started spinning like a top, nowhere close to the ball.

And the kid nicknamed Wheels? Ironically, he ran like he had a flat tire.

My nephew, Teddy (aka Tebow) pitched and played first base. In one of my proudest moments as his uncle, he once threw a two-hitter in a playoff game with double-digit strikeouts.

His claim to fame is that he stole more bases than anyone on the team, despite not being fast. It was a mystery. They just couldn’t throw him out.

Vac Man was famous for losing or forgetting something at every game or practice. A glove, a hat, catcher’s equipment, a bat. He seemed ok with it. His dad? Not so much.

Another kid rarely got on base. So, the first time he got a double, he ran to second – and kept going – not realizing he had to stop.

I know. Bad coaching.

Eventually, we took this group of characters to the championship against our chief rival.

A rough game. The team played flat early and my brother was smoking mad. I mean, he had the bulging eyes going and his face was nearly purple. At one point, he went to the mound, gathered the team and started barking at them. They kind of leaned away like he was some crazy person on a subway.

The only thing I heard was his closing line when he snapped, “Dig it?!” like a blown piston.

At one point, one of our best players and hitters came to bat at a critical time. But when he got to the plate, he was on the wrong side. He decided, in the championship game, to switch hit. My brother’s jaw fell to the baseline.

Turns out the kid’s grandpa told him to try it.

What can you do?

Needless to say, we came up a little short in that game.

Still, coaching was a wonderful experience.

Today, many of the kids are doing well. My nephew’s in college and Beep-Beep is running track at a university. Thunder went on to play high school ball and Shifty played high school football on a top Michigan team.

True story: I heard Sizzle is an up-and-coming rapper on YouTube. (Sadly, he doesn’t rap under “Sizzle.”)

Could be worse. He could be a journalist.

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Last modified on Thursday, 28 October 2021 20:02

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