My first love is baseball, but I didn’t start playing organizing Little League until I was 10 years old, a couple years later than my peers. I was a bit bigger than the 8 year olds, but very skinny. I was also a little stronger, so I could make the throw from 3rd to 1st and won the coveted spot as the 3rd baseman.
I wanted to pitch, but everyone did. I just wasn’t very good.
Our manager, Mr. Nelson, was smart. He drafted mostly 10 year olds. And then we had a couple of kids get hurt, so he recruited two very good players from outside our league, kids who could throw the ball so fast that the other teams could hardly hit them.
Our team was called the Penguins, and I was number 10, just like Ron Cey, the 3rd baseman on the Dodgers at that time. Obviously, our team colors were black and white.
Because of the unfair advantage of the ringer pitchers, our team went 18-0. We lost 4 of 5 games in grapefruit league practice games, and then we won the 1st half with a 9-0 record and we won the 2nd half with a 9-0 record.
We had a full contingent of teams, 8 or 10 teams. Our chief rival was the Eagles, coached by Mr. Sherman. We had two playoff games, one to end the first half and one for the championship. In the 1st half, the coach’s son, Richard, wanted to pitch. The Eagles hit 3 triples and 1 single off of him to open the game and the manager took Richard out as pitcher. He was angry and threw his glove at the fence. He was normally our catcher.
We held the Eagles the rest of the game and we won the game 4-3. We won the championship as well with a 4-2 victory. The teams were evenly matched.
What struck me the most about this first team I was on is that we weren’t that much better than the other teams. We had one or two great players and the rest of us were just kids. The great players certainly helped us go undefeated, but we also learned to play baseball as a team. We learned to bunt, we learned strategies, we listened to our coaches and ran the bases well.
During the 1st half playoff game, I took a sharp grounder at 3rd base that hit a rock and bounced over my glove and smashed into my chin. I picked the ball up and still made the throw (and out) at 1st base. But the manager took me out of the game. He put in my friend, Stephen, who usually played 2 innings to the 4 I played at 3rd base. While Stephen was in there, he made a running catch for a foul ball at 3rd that I probably would have missed (I was not good at catching fly balls). That helped stop a rally. My jaw was seriously hurt that I couldn’t open it when we had our pizza party after the game.
We also had great players in the outfield, making the catches when we needed them.
In all, it was always a team effort. One of the times I remember the best was our 3-2 win over the Pelicans. The Pelicans were really bad, next to last, but one day, they played us tight. We won the game, but the coach chewed us out after the game, telling us he was disappointed in how we played. I understand that, but as the player who always won best sportsmanship, I knew that Mr. Nelson was wrong to chew us out. He acted just like the parents in the movie Bad News Bears. He wasn’t a bad guy, but he was too competitive.
My 2nd year of baseball, I was drafted by Mr. Sherman on the Wildcats in the minor leagues, rather than the Farm league. Mr. Sherman was a teacher and a much nicer man than Mr. Nelson. I had more fun on Mr. Sherman’s team, learned the game better, played different positions, and remember my time more fondly. The outcome was the same. Mr. Nelson coached the Bobcats to 1st place, and Mr. Sherman coached the Wildcats to 2nd place, just like in the Farm league.
I enjoyed my time in organized ball, but I wasn’t very good since I was so skinny for so long. So when I was in my late teenaged years just starting college, I volunteered with a neighbor to help coach his son’s team and eventually, I coached my own team and joined the board of directors, hiring the umpires, holding umpiring clinics, and umpiring myself, as well as helping out all over the fields as much as I could. It was my way of giving back.
I grew up in Granada Hills, and Granada Hills Little League won the Little League World Series the year I was born. That must have been the first sign that I would be a baseball fan.
Someday, I will write to tell you about my favorite team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, but I’m still stinging from two straight World Series loss and a loss to the eventual champions, the Washington Nationals in the playoffs last season. I have much to say about the Houston *Asterisks cheating scandal and the Boston Red Sox. But win or lose, I’ll root for my favorite team, the Dodgers, for all time.