600 S 6th Street PO Box 878 Sunnyside, WA 98944
|'F' as in Frank|
|A big do-over for a little leaguer|
|By John Fannin|
One of my news "beats" this summer is to cover the three Sun Valley boys baseball teams. They range in ages from 13 to 18-years-old.
Based on my own struggles in little league as a youngster, I empathize with the younger players as they learn to play a game they enjoy.
When, and it is a matter of when, not if, they do fumble a ground ball or potential fly out, the coach patiently sends them out to the field the next inning for a second, third, fourth chance to get it right.
A sort of do-over.
But what to do if the mistake you make is the last play of the day?
That was my dilemma in what was simultaneously my highest and lowest point in a brief career as a little leaguer.
I was short for my age. Let's just say I put the little in little league.
Though I struggled to get the bat around on the ball, I quickly realized that my short stature combined with a compact stance at the plate presented such a small strike zone that I managed to coax walk after walk.
I couldn't hit a lick, but my on-base percentage was .500. Ichiro in his dreams couldn't hope for that stat.
We, the Sox, went 3-9 in my one season as a little leaguer.
It should have been 4-8.
It was the top of the last inning of play in our season finale against the high-flying Cubs, yet we hung with them in an upset bid.
We had a runner on base with two outs, when I shuffled up to the plate. Four pitches later I was perched on first, after drawing my usual walk to keep the inning alive.
The next batter belted a bases clearing double, and I scored the go-ahead run against the mighty Cubs.
By the way, only in little league circles will you hear the words mighty and Cubs in the same sentence.
But I digress from the rest of the story.
My teammates cheered as I crossed the plate to put us ahead.
But there was still the bottom of the last inning to play. We had to hold the other team scoreless to get the win. If the Cubs scored even one run it would force extra innings. Two runs would give them the victory.
To my horror, our coach put me into the outfield to play the bottom of the inning. You see, I was a pinch hitter (make that pinch walker). I wasn't a fielder.
But maybe coach thought if he stuck me out far enough in the outfield I couldn't do any damage and I'd be on the field for the celebration.
Or maybe he took leave of his senses.
Either way, the Cubs had runners on first and second and were threatening to steal our-my-thunder.
There were two outs. The go-ahead run I had scored a few minutes earlier was just moments away from being the winning run.
Up stepped a Cubs' batter and lofted a lazy fly ball. The thing must have had radar, because it was falling right towards me.
I'd never fielded a ball in the outfield during game time, much less crunch time with the game on the line.
I circled under the ball, guessing where it might land when it returned to earth.
It fell right behind me, just plopped out of reach onto the outfield grass.
I turned around to retrieve the ball. In my panic I dropped the ball, picked it up again and threw a strike to the infield.
But I threw it to the wrong teammate.
Both Cubs' base runners scored.
In my mind, I went from something of a hero to most definitely a goat.
My dad and I were quiet in the car as we headed back home. He was a vacuum at third base in his day. Nothing got past him.
As I fought tears, I figured he was disappointed in me.
When we got home the silence was finally broken.
"Hey bud, let's throw the ball around," he said.
So we did.
He threw grounders to me and even fly balls similar to the one I misplayed to lose the game.
I don't remember how many of his throws I caught, or missed.
It didn't matter.
I had my do-over.
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