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Just a scrimmage, the coach’s email said. Saturday morning at 11 o’clock.
How bad could it be? A small spot of time in the sun on a crisp, spring morning watching the Puddinpop play a lil’ of the ole national pastime would be a pleasant way to start my Easter weekend, right? Maybe I could even do a little reading or plotting (and that’s book plotting, not caper scheming) from the bleachers.
And it’s just a scrimmage right? So…that means, what, like an hour? Hour and a half? Maybe three innings or everybody bats once? We’d be home just in time for lunch, I figured.
Oh, no. No, no, no. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I was treated instead to a full game scrimmage. That means five innings and nearly three hours of kid-pitched little league baseball.
Did I mention that at 10:30 on a cool Saturday morning in early April, some form of protection for my increasingly sparsely-covered head (face too, for that matter) was the furthest thing from my mind? Yeah, it might have been a wise choice, because I’m an awe-inspiring shade of pink right now.
Personally, I think I’m French Rose, but the Puddinette leans more towards cerise.
Sunburn aside, for those of you who’ve never had the privilege, third graders pitching to third graders (many of whom are pitching and/or batting for the first time) is an exhilaration experience. And by exhilarating, I mean, “Holy lord, is it only the 2nd inning!?”
In fact, let it be written that I truly wondered for the first time in my entire life if I am, in fact, a terrible, evil human when I caught myself thinking, “Good night, that kid’s like 2-foot nothing. His strike zone is shorter than my attention span; he’ll walk for sure. Curse this interminable game!”
There may have been sobbing. I’m not saying.
Really, though, it wasn’t that bad. And all my kvetching-for-effect aside, at the end of the top half of the fourth inning, it got even better when I realized that little league baseball is the perfect metaphor for everyday life.
The Puddinpop’s team was in the field with two outs, and facing runners on second and third. The pitcher toed the rubber, went through his motion, and delivered. And like 80% of the other pitches thrown Saturday, it glanced off the catcher’s mitt and rolled to the backstop.
The runner on third broke for home, never looking back.
The catcher popped out of his crouch and dashed for the ball. He snagged it and charged back to the plate. Dropping to his knees and skidding forward slightly, his mitt hit to dirt in front of the plate.
The runner’s foot kicked up a cloud of dust sliding towards it.
Foot met mitt. The umpire shouted, for the first time all day. “He’s OUT!”
The crowd – can you call 12 people a crowd? – erupted in applause and woops of delight.
It was a perfect play, made that much better by the fact that it was probably the fourth such passed-ball attempt to steal home in the game. Each time before, the runner scored because the catcher was still learning how to play the game. And with every instance he got a little coaching and a few words of support about what to do and think about during the game.
And the lessons all came together in a few heartbeats at home plate.
That’s life, to a tee. The entire world around us is fraught with mistakes, critical thinking errors, and foolhardy plans, and we all make plenty of missteps of our own. In the real word, it seems like 90% of the time nothing goes the way it’s supposed to, at least the first time around. But when something goes wrong, you don’t give up, can’t give up; you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get ready for the next pitch, the next plan, the next big moment in your life.
Because one of these times, you’ll get it just right. One of these times, you’ll keep everything in mind and make all the right moves. And that one time, just like when our first-time catcher blocked that runner, you’ll suddenly remember exactly why you put up with all the crap and the screwing up and trying again.
Because every now and then, it comes out perfect. And when it does, the crowd goes wild.
And that’s why we play the game.