Bats, Balls, and Bladders: Funny But True Little League Stories

I sat down last night and tried to calculate how many youth sports games in total I had attended for my three children over the years. I’m not sure why I did this. Maybe he was bored. Or maybe it was the realization that my youngest son was turning 13, and this stage of our lives would soon end. It was almost impossible to calculate, but each of my estimates took me close to 1,000 games. Could that really be true? And I didn’t even try to guess the amount of practice to boot. By any measure, it all added up to a great deal of time spent on children’s sports. And the vast majority were fun.

I suppose that when you combine all that time spent on youth sporting events with the basic reality of human nature and emotions, it is statistically inevitable that one will witness a wide variety of incidents ranging from the funniest to the most moving, going through the funniest. the most embarrassing. And unfortunately, when I think about it, I can’t help but remember that it was the adults who were almost universally responsible for every one of the embarrassing behaviors I witnessed, while the children monopolized the ownership of the hilarious and moving events. Funny how that worked.

While the embarrassing behaviors of parents and coaches make news columns and blog essays interesting and easy, there is plenty of entertainment worth counting on when telling the funny and heartwarming things about kids. Fortunately, these stories outnumber the embarrassing ones by a wide margin. Here’s just one that came to mind the other day.


One year I had a boy on one of my minor league baseball teams who I will call Simon. Simon was the quintessential little league player, by my definition. He was early to every game and practice. He was always fully dressed in baseball paraphernalia, with all the coolest accessories like double-wrist sweatbands, flip-up sunglasses, and a large wad of Bazooka gum tucked neatly to his cheek. His spitting ability was second to none, and his knowledge of Major League Baseball statistics and trivia would make Tim McCarver blush. He loved baseball. Unfortunately, his athletic skills and coordination did not match his love and passion for the game.

Due to his weaker abilities, Simon did not qualify for the “major” league and was therefore playing on my “minor” league team with much younger players. He was nearing his final year of eligibility to play in Little League, and Simon had spent his early years in the league racking up a lot of time on the bench, doing a great deal of duty in right field, and mostly hitting late, if he ever did. (oddly enough). He had never been on the pitcher’s mound except to cross it on his way to right field. His parents had written to me at the beginning of the season to tell me that his past experiences were demoralizing and had almost crushed his joy and desire to participate in the game. His stories of past experiences were unsettling, to say the least, and probably cruel from any standpoint of decency. I assured his parents that Simon had come to the right team this year.

On one particular early spring night, we were excited to play a game under the lights on one of the city’s premium fields generally reserved for the senior players of the “major” league. It would be our team’s first game with real square grass instead of dirt, real dugouts, and a 200 ‘fence marking the perimeter of the outfield. Interesting things for a group of 9 and 10 year olds with visions of baseball greatness still dancing innocently in their heads. And for Simon, it was a baseball fantasy verging on reality as he raced out onto the lush grass field with the giant spotlights illuminating the perfectly manicured diamond. He took to the field with his usual professional stride, blissfully ignoring the likelihood that any ball that struck his path, once again, would not land safely in his glove. For Simon, that was not a devastating concern. Like his past mistakes, if another happened, he would once again shake his head, slap his glove a bit, and raise his hand towards us coaches as if to point out, “I should have had that one, Coach. The next one.” we’d give him a thumbs-up and yell at him, “Great try, Simon!” It was a pretty good arrangement; stress free for all of us that way.

Being the true professional that he was, he almost expected Simon to tip his cap towards the dozen “fans” as he made his way to his booth. One thing was for sure, Simon would savor every precious moment of his Little League experience, as long as someone gave him the opportunity to do so.

Bats, balls and bladders

Unfortunately, as he tends to go away in Little League, our excitement for the big game under the lights began to wane around the third inning when the opposing team proceeded to score 10 runs, with no end in sight. I’m sure you know the entrance well; walk after walk, error after error, stolen base after stolen base, relief pitcher after relief pitcher. It was painful for everyone, especially on what turned out to be a cold and foggy night. And as if the follies of baseball weren’t punishing enough, there was another side effect of this “Bad News Bear” moment. The inning lasted so long that I began to notice some of our players on the field wriggling, shifting, and tugging at the crotch of their pants. Suddenly, while my fourth reliever was warming up, our second baseman shot off the field toward our dugout.

“Coach,” he begged, “I have to go wrong.”

“Go where?” I answered.

“I have to pee so bad,” he replied with the look of desperation in his eyes. Damn those 24-ounce Gatorade bottles!

“Okay,” I said, “go ahead, but hurry up. This game is taking long enough.” As he made his way to the latrine, first baseman came right behind him.

“Coach, I have to pee bad too.”

I said, “Go ahead, but please hurry up.” Then comes third baseman too.

“Coach, can I go too?” I ask.

“Sure why not?” Said. I was thinking that from the looks of our next pitcher’s so-called warm-up pitches, this will be the longest inning in Little League history anyway. Hell, I thought, I might as well go myself. At least it’s probably hot in the men’s room.

When I looked at my nearly empty box and realized that our only chance to convert a double play would have to take place in front of two urinals and a sink, I also noticed that the opposing coach was getting annoyed by these additional delays. I couldn’t understand that. I guess he wanted to continue with the resumption of our kill before his team lost momentum. Perhaps a future bench coach position with the Yankees was at stake. Who will know

To be fair, the entry took forever. But given the current state of my inner frame, my biggest concern was who else might be suffering the call of nature. Back on bladder patrol, I once again scanned the field for more crotch twists and pulls. No one else seemed to be seemingly uncomfortable, but I suddenly realized that Simon was now also running towards the dugout from the outfield. I ran into him at the fence and anticipated his expected request by saying, “Yes, yes, Simon. You can also go to the bathroom if you need to.”

But Simon replied, “No coach, I don’t have to go.”

“So what’s the matter with you, Simon?” I asked.

He said, “I have to get out of the game to rest my eyes.”

Rest your eyes?

“The giant bulbs are too bright and hurt my eyes. I’m afraid they could damage my retinas.” And without waiting for my response, Simon passively took a place on the bench and calmly removed his wrist bands and flip-up sunglasses. I didn’t even get a chance to ask him why he wore sunglasses to a night game or, since he did, why he didn’t wear them to protect his retinas from reflector damage. Simon politely sat on the dugout, opened a fresh piece of Bazooka, and surveyed the field with his usual enthusiasm, yelling a few “Come on guys!” to his teammates, whom he still believed could engineer a comeback. Simon was not one to let reality spoil his baseball fantasy. And why should it? That’s what baseball is supposed to be at that age.

Seeing Simon so calmly sitting comfortably on the bench, I thought to myself, that was the last blow. Our team was taking a beating and the game wasn’t half over yet, the night was freezing, my whole frame was peeing and missing in action (probably warming up under the hand dryer), my fourth relief pitcher was busy bouncing balls three feet in front of home plate during warm-ups, and now one of my players had been kicked out of the game for fear of going blind.

The coaches and I had no choice but to look at each other in disbelief and then burst out laughing. You just can’t make these things up.

By the way, Simon finally got a chance to pitch that season for the first time. He walked, hit and struck out a player. In that moment, for that boy, the baseball fantasy became reality. The smile on his face showed it.

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