Something very exciting is happening across the country right now – no, it’s not the back-to-school sales! – it's even better – Little League Baseball All Star Tournaments.
Yep, this is one of the pivotal moments in a Little Leaguer’s career that is defining in more ways than one — particularly when the game is not going as planned, and I’m not talking about the players, I’m talking about us parents.
I’m currently in the midst of a very hot and heavy All-Star series. This year, for which I’m sure there is a logical and reasonable explanation, the Little League All-Star tournaments are taking place in Coventry. You know us Rhode Islanders — crossing county lines can send one’s body into fierce convulsions as well as make us temporarily incoherent, but since I lived in Coventry for the first few years of married life, I’ve been enjoying my old stomping grounds these past two weeks.
Two of my sons are playing for winning teams at the moment; one is my 15-year-old son who plays for South Kingstown Babe Ruth and is on their All-Star team coached by one of my favorite coaches of all time, Ed Pare. My son has played on his All-Star team for the past three years and not only does he know the game of baseball, he has a wonderfully witty way of making the boys’ bad plays into good, old-fashioned teaching moments, and when praise is due, they hear about it.
My 9-year-old son is also playing on an All-Star team for Narragansett Little League and for the first time in our 100 years (can you tell I’m getting a little tired at this point in the season?) we’ve had the pleasure of being coached by Jason Laurie. He is a parent’s dream come true of a coach. He’s got a professional background in the game and it shows both on and off the field.
Little League has quite a history. On June 6, 1939, the very first Little League game ever was played. From that modest beginning, Little League has become the world’s largest organized youth sports program. In the space of just six decades, Little League grew from three teams to nearly 200,000 teams, in all 50 U.S. states and more than 80 countries.
I’m not quite certain but I’m willing to bet a couple of glasses of Pinot along with my favorite summer accessory — the Chia bra – that present day sportsmanship on the field, in the dugout and mostly in the stands is something our Little League founders would not always be so proud of.
Last year, I admittedly had . I’m not going to bore you with details but if I had had a dime for every loud, obnoxious comment coming from the stands, and I’m talking the younger boys games here, usually not the high school teams, I’d be able to buy the entire South County population seasonal Chia wear. (Hey, don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it.)
So this year, I really primed myself not to get all worked up when I set foot into the stands of my first of well more than 50 games — and we’re still not done. I reminded myself that I was there to enjoy watching my kids and their friends play their beloved baseball, and if we had a repeat of any negative attention, I’d take the high road and only give my attention to all things positive — regardless of which team was making the play, including redirecting my thoughts should I hear put downs and criticism from other parents in the stands. (A tall order, but it can be done.)
Everything was going great until one of this week’s 9-year-old All Star games. The energy in the stands was supercharged, but unfortunately, not with positive energy. It was clear we were in for a tense game, but I reminded myself that though we were all hot, dusty (have you been to Wood Field in Coventry? dusty is being kind) and traveling to yet another 7:30 game for All-Stars, I was not going to let a few pregame remarks get me going.
The first couple of innings went along just fine, but the intensity of commentary that continued to build from the opposing teams’ dugout — yes folks, I’m talking about one of the coaches from the other 9-year-old – NINE YEAR OLD – team, finally came to an ugly head.
An interference play occurred by one of our players (or so their boisterous coach thought), resulting in Coach “Set A Good Example” stopping everything to scream at the top of his lungs. This was the cue for some (not all) of the opposing teams’ fans to join in and make an even bigger stink. The players from the other team, sadly, didn’t seem to be too disturbed by his demeanor, but some of our young boys looked like deer in headlights. The umpire handled it beautifully, but I unfortunately did not.
I stood up from my rickety spectator chair and said in my motherly voice, “Hey, these are 9-year-old boys you’re yelling at!”
Thankfully, before I could get utter anything worse my inner voice said, “Cheryl, remember, you want to lead by example, not sink to that goon’s level.” (Yes, I said goon — I’ll be in Confession this weekend. Go me!)
As it turned out, Narragansett won the game and we move on in the tournament (back to Coventry we go today), and our kids were no worse for the wear, but this was just one of several examples I witnessed this year that left me pondering the subject of sportsmanship. Is it possible for parents, coaches and fans one and all to revisit the goals that the Little League founders set in 1939? To give the children of the world a game that provides fundamental principles (sportsmanship, fair play and teamwork) they can use later in life to become good citizens?
There will always be a spoilsport in some crowd, but I believe there will be many more fans that will support, encourage, and keep the game a positive experience — for players and spectators alike! So, on that note, let’s play ball!
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