Thursday, August 7, 2014

Meanwhile, Somewhere Yvonne Craig Smiles

Surroundings change.
But that's all superficial stuff.
You go out there with what's inside you;
You close your eyes and you could be anywhere.
So where you are doesn't matter.
- Bruce Springsteen

As summer winds down to its final few remaining weeks we have almost arrived at the point on the calendar where at least some of the world's attention turns to Williamsport, Pennsylvania and the Little League World Series.  Truth be told, while I have always been a fan of young children playing baseball I have never been an enormous Little League fan.  My reticence in embracing it is wholly related to the perpetual presence of parents in the stands attempting to live vicariously through the play of their child on the field.  To live one's life through the accomplishments of one's twelve-year-old is to exhibit a behavior that - to me at least - border on the pathological.  

But I digress. 

Apparently once again this summer the best Little League team in New Jersey is from Toms River.  But unlike in years past, when the team's best player has been a boy such as Casey Gaynor or current Cincinnati Reds All-Star Todd Frazier, the 2014 Toms River team best player just might be its only female.  

Twelve-year-old Kayla Roncin is, by all accounts, one hell of a ball player.  In the New Jersey State Championship game she came out of the bullpen in the bottom of the final inning - having inherited a bases loaded jam AND a 2-0 count on the other team's cleanup hitter - and induced him to pop up on the first pitch she threw to save the game.  Earlier that evening - and apparently while enduring some heckling from adult fans of Toms River's opponent - she had staked her club to an early lead by crushing a two-run home run over the wall in left-center field.  Kayla's got game.  As does her team.  On Friday afternoon, the kids from Toms River will play in the semi-finals of the Mid-Atlantic Regionals.  If Toms River wins the Regional, then it heads off to Williamsport for the Little League World Series. 

Among the teams that intend to have their say about Toms River representing the Mid-Atlantic Region in the World Series are the youngsters from the Taney Youth Baseball Association in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  Like their neighbors across the Delaware River, the Taney team counts among its best players its lone female member, thirteen-year-old Mo'ne Davis.  She is the leadoff hitter and the team's #1  pitcher.

It was the Bard who posed the question "What's in a name?"  Young Ms. Davis could readily provide the answer to that query.  In her first game on the mound in the Mid-Atlantic Regional, she struck out ten and allowed only one hit in leading her team to a win.  

It is too early to tell whether either the Toms River team or the Taney team will win the Regional and play in the World Series in Williamsport.  All of the kids on both teams share a dream shared by all of the other twelve and thirteen-year-old boys against whom they are competing, which dream shall for the majority of them, of course, go unfulfilled.  Irrespective of where and how the ride ends for Kayla Roncin and Mo'ne Davis they have demonstrated unequivocally their rightful place on it, alongside - and frequently leading - their teammates and coaches.  

The great Bernard Malamud once wrote, "Without heroes we are all plain people and don't know how far we can go."  In the presence of them, we all are imbued with ability we knew not that we possessed.  And we can make it much farther - and much further - than we ever thought possible...

...even, as it turns out, all the way home. 


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