My Little League Nightmare Story

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Spring is in the air and in most hamlets on Long Island, it’s time for Little League baseball.
I coached for more than a decade with the Massapequa International Little League as my children progressed through T-Ball, the Minors, the Majors, the Juniors and even the Senior League. I enjoyed every minute of it and to this day, most of the kids that came through my teams still call me “coach.”
Some managers (and parents) felt that winning was important, but I always had a simple philosophy, everyone plays. My teams didn’t win a ton of games (we won our share), but we had fun all the time. I showed them how to play the game the right way and that every player on the team was important.
Of course, it always seemed to happen that one kid would be up with the bases loaded, only to strike out on three pitches. And why would the ball always find that kid in the outfield?
I spent a lot of time with the kids, talking about baseball, treating them like ball players. I preached that baseball was a team game and that every one of their teammates was special because we were all wearing the same uniform. We were a team.
Obviously, some kids were just better athletes than others. Some kids just weren’t going to be the next Derek Jeter, no matter what you did for them.
I was one of those kids. I wasn’t terrible, but I wasn’t a star athlete. I couldn’t judge a fly ball, but I was a solid infielder. I could hit, but my career average was probably close to the Mendoza Line (that’s about .200, for you non-baseball fans).
I played in the era of parents not attending every game you played, or any game you played for that matter. There were no water bottles, no team mother bringing juice boxes and orange slices. You just jumped on your bike, hooked your glove on your handlebars and went to the game in your stinky, dirty uniform, wearing sneakers.
We didn’t have our own bats and we certainly didn’t have our own helmets. We were lucky if between both teams, we had four helmets, two of which were cracked and one so big Shaquille O’Neal could wear it. But we all had a love for the game.
One Saturday afternoon, my mother had invited most of my aunts and uncles for a barbeque, along with a large contingent of my cousins. Little Paulie (me) had an afternoon game, so everyone came to watch.
Sporting a freshly washed uniform, there I was, batting seventh and playing third base. In the second inning, I came up to bat and somehow fisted the ball into right field for a base hit. As I rounded first, everyone was cheering and yelling. I made my turn like a pro, returning to first base triumphantly. As I looked over to the bench area, everyone was waiving and cheering for me.
We had advanced to the 90-foot bases that year (I was 13), so I tipped my cap to the adoring throng and cautiously took my lead off first base, staring down the pitcher with an intensity I had never shown before. I pondered stealing a base, but had to concentrate, study his motion, making sure he didn’t throw over and try to pick me off. Then the first baseman walked over to me, slapped his glove on my chest and said, “You’re out.”
Oh no. In horror, I looked over to the umpire and he confirmed the indignity and said, “Yeah, you’re out.” holding up a fist with his thumb pointing upward. Apparently, the pitcher didn’t have the ball at all. The first baseman did, and as soon as I left the base, he tagged me out.
There was about 100 or so feet between me and the bench and unfortunately, there was no hole I could crawl into. It was the longest walk of shame in my young life.
I would tell that story to every one of my little league kids that makes the last out of the game or misses the ball in the outfield, to try and make them feel better. And it usually puts a smile on their face. But almost 50 years later, I can still feel that tag.

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Paul DiSclafani is a columnist for Massapequa Observer. He has called Massapequa home for 50 years.

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