Monday, June 26, 2006

Secret Weapon = .500

Talk about being evenly matched...

At the start of the year, we set up two practice games at Tower Grove Park between Dorn's Pirates and our South Sox. The teams split the two games. Then in early season action, the Pirates beat our Sox in a close one, twelve to ten.

The Pirates and the South Sox had a rematch this past Saturday. Both teams entered the game with identical 4-win, 5-loss, and 1-tie records. A win would bring one team to the .500 mark, and drop the other to 2-games below .500. However, as the South Sox entered this pivotal game, we had a new, pint-sized, secret weapon on our side.

"Playing up" in youth sports means you're playing with kids older than you. All of the guys on our team are seventh graders starting eighth grade in the fall. You can see it in them: they're becoming young men. A couple have bested me in height this year(good for them), and Matt is getting close.

When mid-summer hits, it can be a challenge fielding a full team. Summer ativities wreak havoc on little league rosters. For this game, four of our regulars were out of town, and one was sidelined with a sore elbow.

We needed a substitute player. The boys had just the kid: little "C". Some knew him from alley Wiffle Ball. "C" would be playing up, being a sixth grader going into seventh. And he'd be looking up too. At around four feet three, and weighing 70 pounds, he would be by far the smallest player on the field. But in baseball, big size isn't much of an advantage; and, sometimes being smaller can pay dividends.

Being the new kid, we batted "C" at the bottom of the order. When he came up, the other team must have wondered where we found the littlest Sock. I enjoyed watching the expression on the faces of the opposing pitchers as they tried to find "C's" tiny strike zone.

In his first at-bat, the Pirate's pitcher worked "C" to a two-strike count. But "C" bore down, and drilled a line drive past the picther right up the box. Leading off from first, you could tell that "C" was a ballplayer. Taking his lead, he dropped his hands down between his legs, the ends of his fingers twitching. His baserunning savvy was raising immediate concern on the other team. For the day, "C" made it safely on base three for three times, scoring two runs.

In our last at bat, we were down by one run. "C" helped keep things going, working the pitcher for a walk and coming around to score. At the end of our half of the final inning, we were up by three, but down to none of our regular pitchers. After "C" scored his run, I asked him if he wanted to come in to pitch. He didn't need any convincing. He grabbed a ball and started warming up.

About this time, one of the parents from our team came up and asked, "who is the new guy?" I smiled and said he was friends with some of the boys. When our half of the inning ended, "C" took the mound, trying to secure the victory. I was wondering what the guys in the other dugout must have been thinking.

"C" got the first batter to pop out. The next guy up was safe on an error. On the next play, one of our infielders recorded the second out on a fielder's choice. The next batter made first on a clean single. With two on and two out and the tying run at the plate, "C" went into his motion. The batter swung and grounded the ball up the middle. Cooly, "C" fielded it. I heard one of the other dads in the dugout say, "that should do it". "C" turned to first, set himself, and made a perfect throw over to Johnny Boom-Boom at first. Game over. Sox win!

With three games left to play, the Sox improved their record to five wins, five losses, and one tie.

Back in the dugout, after the traditional post-game handshakes with the other team, one of our guys asks, "can we get 'C' on our team for next year?".

Next year. Already talking about next year. That's a good thing.

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