I once lived a Hollywood movie. It was a feel-good movie where a bunch of underdogs win the championship game despite being the youngest, least experienced team in the league.
It was great until a woke lawyer came along and just about ruined everything.
Here is how it went down:
One Sunday I got a call from the League President regarding a Little League team in the eight-to-ten-year-old division that, as he put it, “nobody wanted.” The division is called “the Minors.”
It turns out a parent who volunteered to coach backed out without telling anybody. They found out when he did not show up for tryouts. They held tryouts anyway. The team was the players no one picked. The term he used was “the Leftovers.” I never called them that out loud, but the name stuck in my mind.
It takes nine players to cover all the positions on a baseball field. There was only eight of them. He told me right off he was calling because they needed a coach and a ball player. I was a coach with a son who wasn’t quite seven yet. They would let him play in the older league if I would coach.
“It won’t be a good year,” he warned me.
He explained that seven of the players were “league eight,” meaning they were seven years old, but they would turn eight sometime during the season. One guy was six, just like my boy. He was placed on the team because his brother played on it and his single mom couldn’t manage to take them to two practices a week.
“It gets better,” he said, and I could have sworn I heard him chuckle. “One of the kids doesn’t speak English.”
The kid who didn’t speak English and one other fellow never played ball before. The six that did play ball before played in a league where your coach pitched to you. Not a one of these guys ever tried to hit a ball that was pitched by another kid. Not only that, but they were used to having a coach in the field with them when a ball was hit. The coach instructed them on what to do when it came their way. Minors would be the first time any of them had to field a ball on their own.
The teams they would be playing had older, experienced players. One team had almost nothing but ten-year-olds.
I figured, why not?
To give you an idea of how naive they were, on our first practice I explained to them that no one could miss a game, because we only had nine players and there were nine positions on a baseball field. A kid named Taylor instantly raised his hand and asked, “Hey, coach? If I pay attention and work hard at practice this year, will you let me start a few games?”
I gazed into a sea of expectant faces. “Tell you what guys,” I told them. “If you all pay attention and work hard, I’ll let all you start this year.”
A resounding cheer of joy issued from every last player. Even the kid who didn’t speak English cheered.
If this was a Hollywood movie, this is where we would cue the Rocky soundtrack and show you a montage of all our practices. And practice we did. We had the two league-provided practices per week and whole bunch of what I called commando practices. A commando practice is where we commandeered everything from empty soccer and football fields to the space between batting cages to work on drills and stuff.
Now comes the miracle part: I’d like to think some of their success had to do with coaching, but the truth is those little so and sos that nobody wanted turned out to be the biggest bunch of pint-sized killers to ever spit on a baseball field. Fast forward a few years and all but two of them played college ball. One of my pitchers still holds all sorts of State High School records.
The Leftovers won the first game against a team of nine-and-ten-year-olds. No kidding, the losing coach would not speak to me after the game. They won the next game and the next, too, largely in part because they were the hardest hitting team in the league. They were pretty fair hands at fielding, too.
The team everyone was supposed to crush won every game they played that year. I had never seen the likes of it.
Now we get to the woke part, but first a little background.
A Little League season is divided into two phases, if you will. Phase 1 is the “regular” season. Phase 2 is the “post-season” championship tournament. Think of the post-season championship as the World Series. To a kid, it is a big, big deal.
If you lose the first game of the tournament, your team is placed into the loser’s bracket. If you lose in the losers bracket your team is out of the tournament. For this reason, it is vitally important what team you play first in the tournament.
Who plays who first is determined by the number of games each team won in the regular season. There is one exception. It is called “the buy” and it is awarded to the team that won the most games in the regular season. The buy allows the team to skip the first round of games in the tournament. The buy gives your team an advantage, because you enter the competition without a loss against you and you have fewer games to play to win the championship. The buy has been the rule of play in baseball since I was a kid and long, long before that.
Since the Leftovers went undefeated in the regular season, they were awarded the buy.
Now cue the dramatic music, maybe something on the order of Jaws.
A week before the first game of the tournament, I was asked to attend a League meeting. I wasn’t told why until I got there.
One of the league directors took exception to the buy rule. He concluded that giving the first-place team the buy was unfair. He determined that mathematically, the second-placed team should get the buy, because they had more of an uphill battle to win the championship than any other team.
I figured his kid played on the second-place team, but I was wrong. He had no kids in the League. In fact, he had no kids. He joined the Little League board out of community spirit.
He asked me to hear him out while he explained why giving the buy to the second-place team instead of the team that earned it made things fair. He was a lawyer and he sounded like one. He laid out a thoroughly thought-out explanation. He backed up each point using math. When he was done, I did a little math for him.
I’ll spare you the language, but this is where the movie gets an ‘R’ rating.
Basically, what I said was this:
The other teams did not put in half as many hours of practice and work as my guys put in, and let’s not forget the parents who brought to practice and back. The other teams started the year off with a significant advantage over my team in terms of age and baseball knowledge. They had a fraction of the mountain to climb for success that my guys faced. I also pointed out the second-place team was a bunch of ten-year-olds. My guys were a little over seven. Why hadn’t the players from those teams been divided to make a more equitable competition? Bottom line, my guys earned the buy. Don’t my guys have the right to be rewarded for their hard work and dedication?
The board voted. The ten-year-olds got the buy.
The league president tried to console me after the vote. I told him not to worry about it; my little monsters were going to win that tournament no matter who got the buy.
Dramatic theme music!
In fact, they went undefeated in the post season as well. And just like the movies, the first game was a close one. We played against the ten-year-olds. They were ahead of us four runs in the first inning. The Leftovers ate away at their lead then beat them.
Cue the theme music.
Hollywood agents can contact me through this blog.