Thursday, June 24, 2010

"90% of the game is mental. The other half is physical."

The boys played their championship pee wee little league game on Tuesday night after winning the playoffs.

Sean tosses his hat into the air after the playoff victory.

Before the game, Ian and I had an hour or so to ourselves to walk to the dogs. We enjoyed the usual stroll with the three beasts, talking over the changes that are being made to different homes and admiring the gardens of certain neighbors. We each walk a good portion of our neighborhood every day, so it's fun to walk it together and point out all the things we've noticed along the way.

As we climbed one of the hilly streets and headed toward home, we came upon a house recently purchased by a well-known local civil service union leader. The home is undergoing extensive renovations. "That's gotta be the fourth dumpster they've had there," Ian asked as we walked by, while I was busy admiring a row of tiger lilies on a property across the street. "Do you know how much those things cost? AND they're doing the windows? AND the roof?"

"And they're renovating inside, too", I commented.

"Where the hell do people get all this money?" Ian asked.

"Ian, seriously. Who knows? Who cares? Why do you care so much about what other people do with their money?"

"I'm like my dad that way," he said. "I guess it's the German in me."

Cee Cee poked her nose into a patch of myrtle while Ian's two dogs panted heavily in the heat.

"Well, I'm Irish [note: Irish and Italian, but mostly Irish...]," I said. "Do you know what the Irish think about money?"


"Nothing! Because we don't have any!"

"Wa wa wa..." Ian chided.

"I grew up in the McGuire household full of Catholic Democrats, where we talked about politics, religion and literature. And more politics. And more religion. And more literature."


"Money was never part of the equation in any way."

We went home, packed up our water bottles, and headed down to the game. The kids were already at the field with their father. It was raining lightly, and the game commenced with a rocky start. Both teams were off in the first couple of innings, with the usual power hitters striking out, and the usual no-fail fielders dropping the ball. It was raining. It was late. (The game didn't start until 8PM. On a school night.) And the kids were nervous. What's more, the umpire made a few bad calls, prompting me to screech, "Who paid off this umpire tonight, anyway?!?!" My nearest and dearest friend Renee, who is Sean's godmother and who, with her boyfriend Jeff, has been at almost every game this year, laughed and warned,"You're the kind of parent who gets thrown out of here!" She would know. Her grandfather was president of the league for several years, and Renee played for many teams on those fields throughout her childhood.

It was the championship. It was raining. I wasn't the only parent in a cheeky, screaming-from-the-bleachers mood that night. And I didn't take too kindly in the second inning when my ex-husband announced he was leaving to go to (wait for it....) "band practice". He "didn't realize" it was the last game. (?!?!?!?!?!?!) After an initial wave of hot, nauseous anger flowed through me, I breathed deeply and turned away from him, taking comfort in the fact that it was just another fine example of why I do not regret being divorced from him. (I know I almost never use this space, or any space, to disparage the father of my children, but this pissed me off in a big way. Please accept my apologies. Mama bear is in full effect.) But I digress.

Vapid parental figures aside, the bleachers were once again crowded with our family: Me, Ian, Renee, Jeff, my mom, my mother-in-law, my mom's good friend, Pete. And that's nothing. One game we had in excess of dozen people there just to see Sean and Nolan. The kids have a lot of love and support, and they know it. And on Tuesday night, we cheered for them and all of the kids, especially as the game took a tricky turn.

Our usual crowd at the games. 11 of us in this pic.
Q: Who brings (and reads) a book to a little league game?
A: The same person who cuts out early of his kids' championship game.

Their foes were formidable opponents. Undefeated the entire season, they typically crushed other teams with scores of 20-something to around 3 or 4--like a bad football game. Our team, 10-1, took a draw in their first regular season game against them, and took a 9-5 loss in their second match-up. Respectable. They were really the only other team of their caliber.

In the fourth inning, the rain became heavier. The field lights had been switched on, and the bleachers on our side of the field became hushed as our opponents began scoring--two runs in the fourth, then five in the fifth. Our team was still scoreless, and since it was a six-inning game, we had only one more chance to prove ourselves.

Enter Nolan in his #1 jersey. The munchkin of the team. The youngest, skinniest, smallest. The one with the biggest eyes and biggest smile, and well-loved by all. Ginger, the grandmother of the boys' good friend Nicky, is in love with him. "There's Nolan! Nolan's up a bat!" He's got a way about himself that people adore. And we loved it all the more when he started the sixth-inning rally with a solid base hit.

Bang, bang, by one the kids began making it to base. We scored: one, two, three. Then two outs. Then three more runs. And with the bases loaded and two outs, the next batter was in a very high-pressure situation. You never want to see any kid in that position, let alone your kid.

And it was my kid.

The rain was pouring by now. Everyone was soaked. The kids squinted through the raindrops and the bright lights of the field. It was 9:30PM on a school night. Sean walked to the plate. He was 2 for 3 so far that night, and most nights he's 3 for 3. He was a decent player to have in this jam. He took to the plate, tapped it with his bat, bent at the knees and swung. Strike. He breathed, paused, and watched with a good eye as the next ball came by. He took the next ball, too. Then another swing--and a strike. And a ball. Bases loaded, two out, 3-2 pitch. Everyone was silent.



Our opponents took to the field in victory, but our side of the field began cheering, too. Sean was devastated, but everyone congratulated him and the rest of the team on an excellent season and a game well-played. They didn't let the other team win without a fight.

After the obligatory "good game, good game" team handshakes, our team had its usual post-game outfield huddle. I watched Sean walk slowly behind the rest of the kids, stopping to talk to Nolan who had waited for him. The coach draped an arm around Sean's shoulder and kept him by his side as he gave a pep talk to the team. The rain continued to pour. Lightning flashed not far away. Most parents began making their way to the snack bar, but I waited for Sean.

"He's crying," I said to Renee, who as always was right there with me.


"Yeah, I can tell." My heart was heavy.

The team broke up with cheers and headed toward the snack bar for the requisite post-game hot dogs and soda, even at nearly 10PM on a school night. Sean was still on the field. In the rain, coach Anthony leaned in and gave him a hug, and Sean began sobbing. Anthony talked with him while coach Vinny, and enormous guy with a heart of gold, knelt down in the soggy field, looked Sean in the eye and said some encouraging, positive words. Renee and I watched from under our umbrellas. I was crying. And then Nolan showed up by my side, in tears. "I wanted to win!" he said. But he was really crying because his brother was crying. He's like that. Such a little brother.

Nolan tiredly trudged off to the snack bar, while Anthony walked Sean off the field. Cindy, Nicky's mom, was also in tears as she stood by me and Renee watching Sean.

Anthony came right up and hugged me. His voice was shaking and his eyes were wet. "Let me tell you," he said, his proud Roman nose giving away his heritage. "Your son is such a good kid. He even has me crying." Then he hugged Sean again. "It could have been anyone in your position tonight, Sean. But it was you. And in a heartbeat, I'd pick you to be in the same position again, because we can always count on you. You are a great player." He gave him the team ball. Sean choked out a few more sobs. Vinny came up to him and reiterated, "We'd pick you to hit in that spot anytime, Sean. This kind of strike out happens to every good player. It's part of the game."

Also part of the game is losing. Something that our opponents didn't have the opportunity to do as a team at all this year. I reminded the kids of this when they crawled into bed sometime after 10 PM. On a school night. (It was a school night. Did I mention that?)

"Those kids are in for a rude awakening next year when they lose. They don't know what it's like, and some of them might not be able to handle it," I said. "I know that sounds like a real 'mom' thing to say after your loss tonight, but it's true."

"I can't wait to beat them next year!" Sean exclaimed.

"I want to be ON that team next year!" said Nolan.

The boys woke up on the sleepy side of things yesterday morning, but Sean was feeling better about his role in the game and was anxious to get to school and tell everyone about it. Most of his friends were on other pee wee teams, all defeated by the #1 team. Everyone was waiting to hear what happened at the championship game. It had been the talk of the second grade for a few days. Sean could finally tell them that while they lost, it wasn't by much. All the kids were hoping that, at the very least, the championship wasn't just handed to the #1 team. Sean could proudly tell them it wasn't.

As the kids got ready for school, Sean said, "We're gonna CRUSH those kids next year!"

He was brushing his teeth while I folded bath towels.

"Well, Sean, just remember that the kids on that team are kids just like you," I said, like a typical mom.

"No they're not."

"Yes, they ARE. They're not evil. It's not like Darth Vader plays on that team, honey."

Sean spit a mouthful of toothpaste into the sink. "Yeah it is!"

Today the boys finished school. They walked out of the building as a first grader and a third grader. Unreal. We inaugurated summer vacation with a few hours with our friends and neighbors in their pool.

Nothing like a cool dip in a pool on hot day. Or a pool party. Coach Vinny is hosting one for all of the kids and parents in a couple of weeks. I'm looking forward to seeing the kids together as a team again. They were a phenomenal bunch of kids. The kind of kids that went out of their way to high-five each others' successes, and give an encouraging "it's okay, good try" with a pat on the helmet when one of the teammates fell short.

Pre-game huddle on the mound during playoffs.

I'm feeling somewhat adrift and kinda bummed now that little league season is over. Maybe moreso than the kids.

I wonder when registration starts for Fall Ball.



Kate said...

I shed a few tears for Sean too this morning. What great boys you have and it is clearly a testament to you.

You write so beautifully. I think I'm going to ask Shona to arrange for us all to get together soon. Hope you all have a great weekend!

Milk Money said...

Thank you, Kate. I'd love for a get together with all of us! xo

marybeth said...

Just cried my eyes out reading this! I played ball for years, and was on both winning and losing teams...and totally know what Sean was going through up there. And as horrible as it was for him, it made him a better ball player and kid (if that's even possible :)