Updated: Mar 31
Little League baseball is a kick. I’ve been a baseball fan most of my life and there are times a Little League game will bring more original spirit than a World Series game. Our twin boys were around 6 years old when they started fumbling around with it. They only lasted one season — wasn’t their calling — but of their short baseball career, I will always remember the most exciting game ever played.
Little League baseball usually has the same components: an over-energetic coach and a slew of rug-rat kids with giant baseball gloves and jerseys so small that the back number is half-tucked into their pants. Parents are tossed together onto the rickety school bleachers to shiver in the night, or swelter in the day as they root the kiddies on. The dads clump together in a wash of dad jokes and the moms twitter on about all else. The kids bang it out on the field as they learn their first lessons in teamwork and sportsmanship. A hundred innings can whoosh by with little that’s remarkable, but sooner or later all hell breaks loose.
My old friend and drinking buddy, Marty Walker, was in town for the weekend. We go way back. Marty and I were building Black Rock City together back in 1996 and for endless seasons after that. After a night of tipping beers and Irish whiskey, it was time to drag Marty into the lap of parenting. We had a Little League game to attend on a bright and sunny Saturday morning. My wife, Mel, was up and ready as she trundled the boys and their equipment into the Subaru. “Uncle” Marty and I scraped our hangovers off the floor and clambered in with them. The boys took to Uncle Marty as he was always full of fun and filled any room with lots of laughs.
“Hell yeah, I’ll go watch the boys play a ballgame!” he said like the party trooper he has always been. A short time later we were out in the Excelsior district of San Francisco and the day was already warming up as we settled into the bleachers.
We sat and watched kid after kid swiping at the ball as the innings slowly clicked by. A ball would get swatted into play and glean a sliver of excitement out of the heat with the appropriate parents hollering, “Go, Jimmy! Run for Home!” But by the fourth inning, the score was already 6 to nothing and we were all starting to get cooked. There was no shade and the sun was a beast that was starting to bake our hangovers and turn our heads into oven skulls. The game dragged on. Several innings later the score was 6 to 3 and the other team was slogging toward victory, one overheated pitch at a time. We might as well have been watching a crew mopping hot tar onto a roof. Our boys cared nothing for the game. It was clear that the only reason we were able to get them into the car in the first place was the promise of ice cream afterward. Colby, who was slightly more interested in the sport, had been up to bat a few times and actually hit the ball once. But any thoughts of glory were quite far from any fields of dreams. Baseball just wasn’t their thing.
It was the bottom of the ninth and we were still losing 6 to 3. It was time for the coach to finally give Atticus a shot in the batter’s box, something that our son had no desire to do. But the coach had made it clear that everyone on the team had to take their turn. This was a small version of hell for Atticus, as we sat and watched the coach coax him to the plate. It was like watching someone dragging a dog into the Vet’s office. Atticus moped his way toward the plate dragging a bat behind while a batter’s helmet the size of a salad bowl gulped his head.
“You can do it, Atticus! Just swing the bat as hard as you can!” shouted Uncle Marty. He was starting to get into the game. Atticus, however, was clueless and careless as he stood there waiting for it all to be over. Nobody was paying too much attention as parents and teammates sat in the morning heat eating peanuts and chatting about other things. Atticus was an “easy out” and the other team had the game in the bag. Celebrations were one out away. The kids in the outfield had long lost interest, along with the rest of the players on both sides. Some of them were even sitting in the outfield grass while others explored the inside of their nostrils. Busses passed. Birds chirped. Then Atticus heaved a sigh and stepped up to the plate. Actually, he stood directly on top of the plate. He slumped down and let the bat sleep on his tiny shoulder. The pitcher shook his head and waited for him to move off the plate.
“You need to stand in the batter’s box, there young man,” said the umpire. “You can’t stand on top of home plate because that’s where the pitcher throws the ball.”
Atticus just stood there. The umpire repeated the sentence. Atticus looked like he was sleeping. The umpire, obviously wanting this swelter game to come to an end decided to move things along by actually picking up my son and placing him into the batter’s box. Uncle Marty came to life.
“Ha! Now there’s something I’ve never seen before in all my years watching baseball!”
“I’m not surprised,” I said. “Every time Atticus comes to bat he does the same thing. I think the ump just wants to go home.”
Even though there were three kids on base with the bases loaded, Atticus was sure to strikeout so everyone was prepping for the end and to get out of the sun including us. He had never swung the bat before and had no intention to do so anytime soon. Everyone out there, especially Atticus, was of the same mindset — let’s just get this over with and head to the ice cream.
“Common Atticus,” Uncle Marty yelled. “You can hit that thing!”
A couple of parents glanced over at us.
“I think those parents are annoyed, Marty. A hit would extend this hot box game.”
“Screw them! I would love it if Atticus got a big ole hit right about now.” “Dude - he won’t even swing the bat. He wants outta here even more than those parents.”
“COMMON ATTICUS!” shouted a newly energized Uncle Marty. “You gotta SWING the bat this time!”
Atticus turned and looked over at Uncle Marty, then did something he’d never done before. He simply held the bat out over the plate like a fishing rod.
“Wow,” I said. “He’s never done that before. It’s an improvement. You have influence over him, my man!”
“STRIKE ONE!” shouted the ump when the pitch whizzed by and into the catcher’s mitt. Atticus never swung the bat at all — not even an inch! He just stood there with the bat hanging out over the plate letting the world go by.
“Well,” said Marty. “At least the bat’s off his shoulder. Maybe next couple of games he’ll actually swing the bat.”
“STRIKE TWO!” the ump called out even as the pitch was being thrown. He wasn’t even looking as he checked his watch. He was set to call the third strike to end the game. The pitcher did a listless windup and lobbed in another pitch.
It was then that the angles of America’s greatest pass-time sport intervened. It’s why we watch the game.
The pitched ball made its slow-motion lazy arc toward home plate. The ump stood with his arms folded ready to call a strike. The parents were busy gathering up their water bottles and lunch coolers. The players in the outfield were scratching butts and still picking noses. The three players that were on base were standing looking at the clouds. Coaches in the dugouts were tallying up the scores. Uncle Marty and I were scraping our boozy carcasses up off the bleacher bench. Then the lobbed pitch did something nobody could have predicted.
It bounced off Atticus’s bat.
He never even swung! The bat didn’t hit the ball. THE BALL HIT THE BAT! It actually startled our son out of his stupor. He just stood there still holding the bat out like a fishing rod as the ball landed on the ground about half a foot in front of home plate. Even then he wasn’t sure what had just happened. Atticus stood there. The ump stood there. The pitcher stood there. Everybody just stood there! The ump looked around the diamond. All were frozen in their stations. The ump slowly put his hand up to his chin. A full five seconds went by. Then the confused ump finally made the call.
Now everybody was startled out of their stupors!
Uncle Marty, Mel, and I shot out of our seats! We jumped to the backstop fence with a new charge of excitement! There was only ONE thing to do as we all joined the chorus of angels with a singular message!
“RUN ATTICUS! RUUUUN!!”
Our coach dropped his scorecard, burst from the dugout, and ran toward Atticus!
“RUN ATTICUS!” he yelled wildly pointing toward first base! Then he shouted to the entire neighborhood and all who would listen,
“EVERYBODY RUN! EVERYBODY RUN FOR CHRIST SAKES!”
What followed was confusion in a blender as the entire field of Little Leaguers started running! On both teams! But no one quite knew which way to run and for what! Outfielders started running in. Infielders started running out. Base runners started running back and forth between bases. Atticus stood for an eternity just staring out from under his salad bowl helmet in a shock of confusion. Uncle Marty started bellowing through the fence to Atticus.
“RUN TO FIRST BASE, ATTICUS! GO GO GO! RUN LIKE THE WIND!”
Run like the wind, I thought? The things you blurt out when the blood runs high! Atticus finally jolted awake and started running toward the base. It took that long for anybody to even think to grab the baseball that was still quietly resting half a foot in front of home plate. The pitcher ran in and grabbed the ball. Not knowing what to do, he ran up to the umpire and held it out in his hand.
“WHAT DO I DO?” he shouted. “WHAT DO I DO?”
“THROW IT! THROW IT!”
The poor kid turned in a panic and launched the ball into the happenstance of nowhere where it just bounced into the outfield unnoticed.
Now, Uncle Marty was CLIMBING the backstop fence!
“OH MY GOD! EVERYBODY RUN! EVERYBODY RUN! YOU CRAZY KIDS!” Marty turned to me. “JESUS! I DON’T THINK I CAN TAKE THIS!”
Now all the parents from both sides were up on their feet and everybody was telling anybody to run. And so they did! They all scrambled in different directions and many times into each other knocking themselves flat! At one point there were four baserunners standing together on second base hopping around in a panic clueless as to what to do!
Meanwhile, the ball was being picked up and thrown from corner to corner and suddenly nobody could throw a catchable ball as each toss would sail over the heads of the receivers. And any ball that did make it to another player was now an uncatchable sack of panic as the coaches and team players alike continued to point in opposite directions while gnashing and shouting. Finally, the base runners started making their way around the bases as the ball was starting to make its way back to the infield. It was a giant game of tag after all. Just as Atticus was scooting around third base, an outfielder finally got a handle on the ball and launched it toward home! Now all four base runners were bunched in a wad stumbling over each other as they made their way to the plate. “OH JESUS!” shouted Uncle Marty who was dangling even higher up the backstop fence. “HERE COMES THE THROW HOME! MY HEART’S GOING TO EXPLODE! THIS IS THE MOST EXCITING BASEBALL GAME I HAVE EVER SEEN IN MY LIFE! RUN ATTICUS RUUUUUN!”
One kid scored! Two kids scored! Three kids scored! Here came Atticus scampering home! Here came the throw! It really was going to be close! Then SHOOSH, the ball went right through the glove of the catcher waiting at home plate! ATTICUS WAS SAFE!
HOLY SHIT! MY KID JUST HIT A GRAND SLAM! HOLY SHIT! MY KID JUST WON THE DAMN GAME!
All around the diamond mouths were hanging. People were not believing what they just saw as we all shared one thing in common; the reminder that anything can happen and tis a grand game after all! It took a full twenty minutes for that wave to finally crash ashore.
It’s safe to admit it. Dad shed tears that day. We all danced around the field as if it were a championship victory. To us, it was. It just goes to show. It’s not how high the tier, but how deep the spirit.
We walked back to the car on a beautiful warm day, ice cream of champions awaiting us all. 7 to 6 was the final score and Atticus was the hero. Well, sort of. It seems he was more of an instrument of good fortune. All he had to do was hold out his magic wand of a bat and Divine Providence took care of the rest. As we reached the Subaru, the events of the game were already changing into the mists of memory as Uncle Marty and I laughed about it for the rest of the weekend. I'm certain I will be laughing about it for the rest of my time; a trophy of family history. Just like the proper legend it was.
And you said baseball was boring!! Sheesh!