Monday, August 31, 2009

Sometimes a Diamond is a Boy's Best Friend....

I spent a little bit of time the past several days watching the Little League World Series, including bits and pieces of the title game yesterday. It seemed to me that years ago the team from Taiwan won the LLWS title annually - stomping the crap out of whichever U.S. team it ran into in the finals. And it seemed to me when I watched the games years ago that every year the Taiwanese team included at least one boy who was significantly bigger than any member of the U.S. squad.

Yesterday, the American champs whose point of origin is a town called Chula Vista, California defeated the team from Chinese Taipei 6-3 to win the title. Among the stars of the Chula Vista team is a 13 y/o boy named Luke Ramirez. During the two games that I saw snippets of he played first base but he apparently also plays in the outfield and pitches. And did I mention that at age 13 he is six feet tall and weighs 212 pounds? He proved to be an intimidating enough presence in the batter's box during his time in Williamsport that on two separate occasions in the title game the Taiwanese manager intentionally walked him.

And while the California fans who made the trip East to support their team booed lustily, the strategy made sense. Whether it is in the Little League manager's handbook or not, I think as a good rule of thumb that when the other team's first baseman is a full head taller than the Vice-President of the United States - who has to gaze upwards just to say hello to the kid during the pre-game festivities - walking him intentionally is the preferred course of action.

Watching the kids from the various teams play the past few days I flashed back to everything I had enjoyed about watching Rob play baseball here in town when he was a child. He did not play Little League baseball. Rather he participated in Farm League, which was the league for those players who were not deemed worthy of being "drafted" by one of the teams in the local Little League. After playing several years in Farm League, Rob graduated to Babe Ruth, which was a league for 14 to 16 y/o players whose rosters were populated by both ex-Farm Leaguers and ex-Little Leaguers. Rob never had any delusions of grandeur as a player. Yet he fielded his position (3rd base) well and he was an average to above-average hitter. And he enjoyed playing. In spite of the fact that most of his games were far more sparsely attended than any of those that were played in Pennsylvania during this past week, he seemed to derive as much pleasure from playing as all the kids who were in the little big show.

You forget sometimes that the kids on the field in Williamsport are only 12 and 13 years old - and I do not mean solely because young Mr. Ramirez of Chula Vista is the size of a Division I linebacker. There are plays the kids on every team made all week that were simply amazing to behold. And there were moments that occurred during the games I watched that were fun to watch - regardless of who you were rooting for - such as in the U.S. Semi-Final game that Chula Vista played against the kids from Warner-Robins, Georgia. In the bottom of the 5th inning, one of the Chula Vista kids hit a home run to tie the game and as he circled the bases, he received a high-five from a most unexpected source - the Warner-Robins second baseman. And after winning the biggest game of their young lives on Sunday afternoon, the kids from Chula Vista invited their opponents from Chinese Taipei to run around the field with them. A joint victory lap as it were.

Most of what I really need to know about how to live and what to do, and how to be, I learned in kindergarten. And some of the rest of it can be learned from watching boys playing a kid's game in the late summer sun of Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Not a bad way to wave good-bye to August and get ready for the fall.

-AK

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