Photo by EHStock
In early May we wrapped up what I think was our 20th Little League baseball team’s season. My youngest son’s 2023 Red Sox book-ended our journey that started with his older brother’s 2012 Toros so many years ago.
At the end of the last spring game, the coach said, “See you on All-Stars!” and we went home, my son hopeful to be voted onto the All-Star team for the first time.
In mid-May, we got an email from the League. Our “Little League will not be fielding a 13U all-star team this year.” I dreaded telling my son, who was looking forward to a few summer games.
Like so many times in parenting, I didn’t know how to answer his question of “why not,” though I had suspicions. I’ve tried to stay out of the politics of youth sports, but my suspicion was that not enough of the traditional “all-stars” at our level wanted to play.
Thinking this could be our last Little League year, even I was bummed. And more so after seeing the disappointment on my son’s face.
A few days later, my husband received a text from another dad, the gist of which was this — if I volunteer to coach, are you interested? For sure, we were. This dad, whom we’ve known for many years through baseball, is friendly, low-pressure, funny, and sarcastic. We knew it would be low-key. A few families. Two or three games, wrapped up by mid-June.
Another dad we like very much put in the time to take care of the administrative work of joining the first area Little League tournament. I had no idea that original birth certificates and proofs of residency would be needed, but here we were.
The vibe was pretty relaxed as we started the season. Kids missed practice and it wasn’t a big deal. People went on their family vacations without being punished. Kids went to camp and rejoined when they came back. That is different from many All-Star teams, which can require strict attendance before selection starts.
Most of all, they had fun. The kids all liked and supported each other.
As the games progressed and the kids saw that the coaches believed in them, the kids were able to dig deep and make some magic happen. Many excelled in positions they had never played. They didn’t make many errors, and when they did, they didn’t get deflated. They supported each other when they got hits and when they made outs.
Nobody was yelling from any position: “You’ve got to catch that!” Or “Why would you throw to first?” Or “You should’ve run faster!” I did not hear berating or shaming — not one single time.
It was only “You’ve got this,” communicated in various ways, and so the kids believed that they did, in fact, “got this.”
We watched as they became District Champions, then Sectional Champions, after which our coach gave a speech he never imagined would be in my blog, but here it is.
“This was put together very last minute and I think it’s a great testament — you get really good families and really good players who play hard and you can win some ballgames. For me, that’s what this is all about and that’s teaching these kids they can do things they didn’t think they could do. And they can overcome a lot of obstacles … here they are winning. It’s great to see it. That’s what it’s all about.”
Through it all, the energy stayed positive. I cannot recall one time there was negativity or yelling. When there was an overthrow from right field to home by one kid with a strong arm, the coach took him aside and calmly instructed that maybe a throw to the cutoff man would’ve been a better choice.
When home runs or RBIs were hit, the whole team celebrated together. When a pitcher started giving up runs and needed to be replaced, they were cheered for their effort and not blamed for the other team’s runs.
I am no sports fan – I still call “extra innings” overtime, to the horror of my husband and sons – but even I was in awe of this team.
In this play-when-you-can energy, we went on vacation and came back just in time to watch my son and his team become the Texas East State Champions of 2023. I wish I could bottle the joy and capture the smiles of these boys holding that banner. We all want our kids to be proud of their work and these kids were so proud. Of themselves, yes, but of each other, too.
We were eliminated last week from the regional tournament, brought down by a strong lefty pitcher and a team representing Texas West, who eventually lost to Louisiana. But this team that wouldn’t have happened but for the optimism of one coach that brought us together ended with a record of 13-2 in the tournaments.
To be honest, a weeklong last-minute trip to California for the World Series was going to be hard to swing, so I wish Louisiana well and am OK that our run is over.
But what’s not over is what these boys learned this summer. More than catching pop flies or executing double plays. More than stealing third or perfecting a bunt. More than hydrating in the summer heat, they learned that when you’re decent at something and put in your all, you can be successful.
They learned that having one person believe in you enough to give you a chance can alter the course of your summer and life. And they learned that when they lean on and support their teammates, they can win.
There were kids on this team that were better players than the others. But on this team of 13U All-Stars, not one player acted like a star. And when nobody acts like a star, the whole team is elevated.
Because just like in life, we all have something to contribute.
After our losing game, I talked to a grandfather from the opposing team in the parking lot. “Another day, this would’ve been a different game. A different outcome. But that’s baseball, right? And that’s life.”
Yes, it is, sir. That’s life.