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Friday, Oct. 24, 2014

Little League Enlightenment

Posted Monday, November 12, 2007, at 4:23 PM

(Photo)
The View from Right Field
On Sunday I watched the Dallas Cowboys defeat the NY Giants. I thought there were an awful lot of penalties in the game, and sure enough, one of the announcers, prompted by a network statistician (I always imagine them as little, pale, mole-like creatures with green visors and sleeve protectors, sitting in a little trench under the announcers' desk and periodically poking up scribbled notes for the announcer to read) noted that the Cowboys are the most penalized team in the NFL at the moment. So there you are. I wasn't imagining things.

But one penalty in particular caught my attention, one that I don't really recall hearing of much before. Maybe it's new. It is a fifteen-yard penalty for "taunting." I see the purpose behind such a penalty, but I wish they had come up with another term for it. Maybe "Verbal Abuse," or "Unsportsmanlike Yammering." The word "taunting" brings to mind a sort of "nyah-nyah nyah nyah-nyah" situation, and creates images of tearful, 260-pound linemen pointing and saying, "He's being mean to me!"

My own experience with organized sports ended pretty early, and involved more baseball than football, but I was well-acquainted with taunting. Only in those days it was called "coaching." I recall that the coaches seemed to have hit on a brilliant strategy. They figured that if you tell a kid how the game works, he might forget. But just stick him out there with no information, wait for him to screw up, and then yell at him and humiliate him in front of everyone, and he'll remember it to his dying day. How could he forget, after all, with it constantly returning again and again in his nightmares?

In their defense, they assumed that baseball knowledge was encoded in male human DNA. To tell a seven-year-old anything about the rules or strategy of the game, or to explain fielding or hitting techniques, would have been redundant. Indeed, it would have been insulting. Just hand him the bat and push him out there. Then loudly and angrily correct any mistakes. Voila! You're a coach!

But don't get the idea that I didn't enjoy Little League. I really did.

I played right field. Deep right field. Really deep. My position and home plate were in different counties. Since the games were played in late afternoon, the right fielder was compelled to stare directly into the setting sun for hours at a time. After a while, this, combined with low blood sugar and dehydration, could lead to hallucinations and mystical out-of-body experiences similar to those described in some Southwestern Indian rituals.

My actual experience of the game was that of an all-encompassing, blinding, red glow and distant screams and shouts. When the screams got suddenly louder I knew somebody had probably hit the ball, so I would scan the grass in front of me in case it landed nearby. It seldom did, but if so, I would chase after it, pick it up and throw it back toward the blinding glare. Eventually, the other team's right fielder would show up and tell me the inning was over. Then I'd stagger blindly in what I guessed was the direction of my dugout. For a very long time all I could see was a blue afterglow from the sun, so when I was called up to bat, I was seldom troubled with running the bases.

As I said, I loved the game. It was very relaxing, and where else can a seven-year-old achieve mystic enlightenment? Plus, the knobby-bottomed shoes were the coolest things I had ever worn. What's a little soul-crushing humiliation compared to all that?


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I played right field too. That's the position they always put you if you were like the worst player, but they had to let you play at least a few innings to satisfy your parents. Then one day in a wrestling match with a friend (Mark, if you're reading this you know I'm talking about you!) I stole his glasses and put them on. For the first time in my life I could see things that were farther away than 20 ft. The leaves on trees across the street, the mortar lines of the bricks on houses a block away, street signs, ditto. I could SEE!!! Needless to say once I got my on prescription my game improved (moved to first base, still too uncoordinated to field well), my grades improved (I could see what the teacher was writing on the board) and things have never looked the same since.

-- Posted by kennethjones on Tue, Nov 13, 2007, at 4:48 PM

I could have had x-ray vision and they still would have been crazy to put me on first base.

I always reminded myself that Babe Ruth played right field. And after a few innings out there by myself he would sometimes appear and we would have little chats.

-- Posted by kenteutsch on Wed, Nov 14, 2007, at 8:02 AM


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