I was walking around the Bronx last Sunday afternoon when I stopped to catch some of the action at Kingsbridge Little League. I stood on the street, pressed against the fence, behind the bleachers. In front of me, a gaunt man in a bright orange and yellow shirt sat quietly watching the game.
The kids must have been about ten. It was brutally hot and I felt for the fielders especially after the pitcher walked the lead-off hitter. Then, he walked the next man and the one after that to load the bases. He was aiming the ball now. The pitcher heard a few scattered words of encouragement–I heard a woman say, “Settle down, Mikey, throw strikes.” But the worse he got, the more silent it became.
No place to hide. The boy hung his head. He kicked the dirt at his feet and held his palms out in exasperation after the umpire called a ball. His catcher had trouble getting the ball back to him–it either bounced in front of the mound or sailed over his head. Typical Little League comedy of errors.
A fat kid who looked like Lou Costello, two batting gloves carefully hanging out of the back pockets of his tight-fitting pants, came to the plate. He looked at two pitches in the dirt, took two strikes, and then looked at two more balls and earned himself an RBI. He trotted to first with his head in the air, pleased. He never intended to swing. I restrained myself from booing.
I looked at the scoreboard for the first time and was surprised that the score was just 6-4. The pitcher slumped his shoulders. The coaches were mum, his cheering section in the stands, silent. Finally, the catcher stumbled out to the mound and said a few words. As he was leaving, the third baseman and the shortstop approached. The pitcher covered his mouth with his glove and the third baseman laughed and went back to his position.
The next batter popped out to third and the one after that lined into double play. The agony was over and the pitcher slowly walked off the field. The opposing team was in no hurry to replace them. Finally, they shuffled to their positions as the tough-luck pitcher sat next to the man in the orange shirt in front of me. The man spoke in a clipped, terse voice. I couldn’t make out what he was saying but heard his tone–critical, angry. “I told you a thousand times…”
I walked away. It’s never too early to have the fun get beaten out of the game.