A very special team
I grew up a Cincinnati fan, so the Big Red Machine era, of course, is one of my favorites in sports. But the 1990 Reds, who swept the Oakland A's in the World Series, are special because they weren't supposed to win it. And my fondest memories are of the 1981 Reds, who had the best record in baseball but didn't make the post-season due to a jacked-up playoff system someone pulled out of their ear after a strike.
Now winning is nice, but that's not what captures my heart. I fall fast and hard for teams that keep on swinging no matter the odds against them.
Big Guy's baseball team this spring had plenty going against it.
In a league of 6- to 8-year-olds, most of our players had their baby teeth while opponents looked like they'd need shaving cream in a matter of months. Team rosters were set at 13 players, but this team finished the season with nine when one player never showed up, another quit and two were transferred to another team after the umpire had to threaten to call the MPs to get a potty-mouthed parent to leave the field.
They were allowed to play with only eight. But if two players came down with the sniffles or a tummy bug at the same time, the team would have to forfeit.
It was during one of those short-staffed games that I knew Big Guy and his Bumblebees would be special to me forever.
In order to play with eight players, you cede the catcher's position. The umpire acts as backstop, but there's no one to defend at the plate. In our case it also forced our normal catcher to play the infield, a position she'd never even tried in practice.
Oh, and the Bees were up against the toughest team in the league, a squad full of pre-shavers who caused one mom to mutter "I want to check the birth certificates on those kids." A team that had doubled up on us the first time we'd played. Rumors had flown all spring that the team was "stacked" - that someone the coach had managed to accumulate the best and the brightest on one roster. I don't know if that's true, and I'm sure the same rumors flew about Big Guy's indoor soccer team that had been undefeated. But I did know that this team was "bam good," as Big Guy says. The Bees knew it, too.
"Aw man, we're playing them again" Big Guy muttered. "They're bad. I mean, they're good."
"And you all have gotten a lot better," I said. "Just go out there and try."
For the first few innings, the Bees looked like they were going to fall victim to the other team's legend. Suddenly, though, spirit rose from disaster when the catcher/pinch infielder took a grounder to the eyeball.
She shrieked. Teammates gasped. She screamed in the dugoout. The ump came over to admonish parents because an ice pack was wrapped in the bottom of her jersey, exposing mere millimeters of midriff. "Pull down that shirt before you show the world what she has," he warned.
She continued to protest in the dugout, but not because of pain. She thought she was going to have to leave the game for good. She calmed herself and returned to the field. She hit a double in the next inning.
Then Big Guy, who'd been complaining off and on for a week that his ankle hurt, said that it was really hurting now. Do you want to leave the game? I asked. Heck no! he boomed, then went out and socked a double as well.
The hit parade was on, with Bee after Bee marching to the plate. The kid who barely knew how to hold the bat at the beginning of the season got a hit. The youngest player on the team, a kindergartener who'd barely turned 6, kept it going. Even the kid who couldn't find his hat all season had everything together. Suddenly, they believed they could win and they were trying their darnedest to do it. The inning ended when the five-run rule went into effect, but not before they were ahead in the total score.
In a fairy tale world, this story would end with a Bees' victory. In the real world, though, the other team had one more at-bat, and when the defense is without a catcher a squib halfway between home plate and the pitcher's mound is as effective as a double. The Bees wound up losing - at least in the scorebook.
"I am very, very proud of you today," the coach told them during the post-game huddle. "Very, very proud."
And as the catcher-infield rubbed her eye and Big Guy limped off toward the dugout, so was I.
Copyright 2010 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.