Saturday, August 2, 2008

Big League Baseball

As everyone who knows me at all knows, much too well, I coach Little League baseball. Right now I'm coaching our Big League Team, 16-18 yr-olds. We are at the end of a remarkable season, my best ever as a coach. We are 13 - 2 and in first place in our district. Last Sunday we swept a double-header against East Surry in what was supposed to be the final day of the season. We should be hoisting a District Championship Banner as we speak, the first for a team I've coached in my 16 years or so as a head coach.

We have beaten our arch-nemesis, Kernersville, 3 out of 4 games. And to make it sweeter, one of those wins was after K-ville pulled one of their typical stunts and brought in a bunch of ringers from the local American Legion team after their season had ended. They added 3 All-Conference players, 2 of whom were also All-State, and 1 of whom is a damn All-American signed to play at LSU, no less. You will probably see Tyler Hanover on someone's draft list in a few years, and you read it here first. When they showed up at our field with those 3, and several other newer, stronger, faces as well, my guys were taken aback, but just for a minute or two. Much to my liking, they then said, in effect, "Bring it on, suckers. If you're so scared you have to trade in your whole team, we'll take that as a compliment, and still kick your ass." Kernersville won that game, but it was close, 7 - 4. My pitchers kept Hanover to a 1 for 4 day, and we had them on the ropes before we made a couple of late game errors, then my pitcher reached his limit under the LL pitch count rule. My reliever promptly walked in their last 2 runs. A few days later we went to their place and beat them 7 - 5, even with their beefed up squad.

Here's where it gets tricky. We are 13-2. Walkertown has lost 4 games now, including 2 they lost to us. They did beat us once. We also started a 4th game in the last week of the season at their place that was rained out after 1 inning, with them leading already 2 - 0. We tried to reschedule that game but have had a hard time due to guys being gone after the season was supposed to end, and several guys who have started football practice for their schools. I had assumed that it was no big deal because we had 1st place locked up regardless. Now I've found out different.

It turns out, when Walkertown played Kernersville they aked for rosters and pitching affadavits before the game. We are required to fill out affadavits after each game to insure we follow the LL requirements concerning pitch limits, days of rest, and their pesky rule about consecutive games. I fill them out, but I have never asked to see one, nor have I been asked. When Kernersville could not produce said documents, Walkertown played the game under protest.

That protest has been upheld, so they are now 12-3, and can tie us with a win in the rained out game. If we are going to hoist my first ever District Championship flag at our complex, we have to win one more game. If they do beat us in the completion, we'll have to find a way to play a play-off game. Stay tuned.

Now, In the "Small World" dept. -

Literally as I'm writing this story about our Big League team, I'm sitting here watching a replay of today's Big League World Series Championship game in South Carolina. The team from SC is playing Puerto Rico. South Carolina always has a strong Big League program and has won several national championships. They always play the finals at this complex near Greenville, just as they always play the 12 year-old division finals at Williamsport, PA.

Now get this -
Our district is the only district in North Carolina with a Big League program. In Big League play, each league in the district fields a team. At the end of the season, well at least seasons past, the coach of the winning team gets to manage the District All-Star team in the State tournament. He selects his squad from all of the teams, and of course takes a majority from his own team. With no other district in the state involved, if we win our district, we automatically win the State and go to Florida for the Regionals. Unfortunately, our district bowed out of the Regionals this year. Here's why. Last year the team couldn't raise the money to get to Florida. It was an embarrassment to the state people to be on the schedule and then not show. In addition, what with school conflicts and graduations we just can't seem to start the games until after school is out and "beach week" is behind us. The season has to end in time to meet the national schedule. Our district representative would have to be selected and in Fla. by July 15 or so. Rather than end the season after just 10 or 12 games and then not have anyone go to the next level anyway, they opted to extend our season till this past weekend, playing 16 games, and skip participation in the Regional tournament. Now I'm sitting watching the Big League World Series on ESPN and thinking "what if".
My team was undefeated after 12 games and I would have gone to Florida as the manager of a state champion team. How cool! With mostly guys from my own team, of course.

THEN - I see that the South Carolina team that is in the final against Puerto Rico is mostly made up of guys from Riverside High, just a short drive from where they are playing this championship. My best friend from LL, who was my assistant coach for 7 years, moved to Greenville, SC just so his kid could go to Riverside. They have a super-strong baseball program. The older son has graduated but the younger one is still there. I'm not saying his kid is on this team, he's probably not. But I bet my friend is there. And I'm not saying that we would have advanced past the Regionals to get to this championship game. We probably wouldn't have. These guys in this game are STRONG! But we could have. Stranger things have happened, and we are certainly not bad.
What a small world it can be.

And now, even as I write these words, the South Carolina team has come from a 4-0 deficit in the last inning and scored 5 runs to win the Big League World Series.
Strange things do happen.
Good for them.
Wish it was me.

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