A Virtual World of Live Pictures.

I sat down last night and tried to calculate how many total youth sports games 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 that this stage of our lives would soon be over. It was almost impossible to calculate, but each of my various estimates took me close to 1000 games. Could that really be true? And I didn’t even try to guess the number of practices to boot. By any measure, it all added up to a huge amount of time spent in sports for kids. And the vast majority was fun.

I guess when you combine all that time spent at youth sporting events with the basic reality of nature and human emotions, it’s statistically inevitable that one will witness a wide variety of incidents ranging from the funniest to the most poignant to the most embarrassing. And unfortunately, when I think about it, I can’t help but be reminded that it was adults who were almost universally responsible for every embarrassing behavior I witnessed, while children monopolized ownership of the funny and heartwarming events. It’s funny how it worked.

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


One year I had a boy on one of my minor league baseball teams who I’ll call Simon. Simon was the quintessential Little Leaguer by my definition. He was early to all the games and practices. He was always decked out in baseball paraphernalia, with all the coolest accessories, like double-wristband sweatbands, fold-up sunglasses, and a big Bazooka gumball neatly tucked into his cheek. His ability to spit out of him was second to none, and his knowledge of statistics and Major League trivia would make Tim McCarver blush. He loved baseball. Unfortunately, his athletic abilities 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 lot of solo duty in right field, and mostly hitting last, if ever (believe it or not). He had never been on the pitcher’s mound except to cross it on the 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 nearly crushed his joy and desire to play the game. The stories of his past experiences were disturbing, to say the least, and probably cruel by any standard 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 best courses in the city, usually reserved for the older players of the “major” leagues. It would be our team’s first game with real grass instead of dirt, real dugouts and a 200-foot fence around the outfield perimeter. Cool stuff for a bunch of 9 and 10 year olds with visions of baseball greatness still dancing innocently in their heads. And for Simon, it was baseball fantasy bordering on reality as he jogged on the lush grass field with the giant floodlights illuminating the perfectly manicured diamond. He took the field with his usual professional stride, blissfully ignoring the probability that any ball he hit in his direction once again wouldn’t land safely in his glove. For Simon, that was not a devastating concern. Like his mistakes in the past, if another one occurred, he would shake his head one more time, bang his glove a little, and raise his hand to us coaches as if to indicate, “I should have made that one, Coach. But I’ll get the next one.” And we’d just give him the thumbs up and yell, “Nice try Simon!” It was a pretty good arrangement; stress free for all of us that way.

Being the true professional that he was, he half expected Simon to doff his cap to the dozen or so “fans” as he made his way to his position. 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 often happens 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 entry well; base after base, 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 insanities of baseball weren’t harsh enough, there was another side effect of this “Bad News Bear” moment. The tackle went on so long that I started to notice some of our players on the field squirming, shifting and pulling on 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 pleaded, “I’ve got to go wrong.”

“Go where?” I answered.

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

“Okay,” I said, “go ahead, but hurry up. This game is already taking too long.” As he headed for the outhouse, the first baseman came up right behind him.

“Coach, I have to pee bad too.”

I told him: “Go ahead, but hurry up.” Then comes the third baseman too.

“Coach, can I go too?” she asked.

“Sure why not?” I said. I was thinking by the looks of our next pitcher’s so-called warm-up pitches, this is going to 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.

As I looked at my nearly empty infield and realized that our only chance to turn a double play would have to occur in front of two urinals and a sink, I also noticed that the opposing coach was upset about these extra delays. I couldn’t figure that out. I guess he wanted to resume our killing spree before his team lost momentum. Perhaps a future bench coaching position with the Yankees was on the line. Who should know?

To be fair, the entrance took forever. But given the current state of my infield, my biggest concern was who else might be suffering from the call of the wild. Back on bladder patrol, I once again scoured the field for more kinks and crotch pulls. No one else seemed to be outwardly uncomfortable, but I suddenly noticed that Simon was now also trotting towards the dugout from the outfield. I met him at the fence and preempted his expected request by saying, “Yes, yes, Simon. You can also go to the bathroom if you have to.”

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

“So what’s up, Simon?” I asked.

He said: “I have to exit the game to rest my eyes.”

rest your eyes?

“The giant spotlights are too bright and are hurting my eyes. I’m afraid they may damage my retinas.” And without waiting for my response, Simon passively sat on the bench and calmly removed his wristbands and foldable sunglasses. I didn’t even get a chance to ask him why he wore sunglasses to a night game or, since he did wear them, why he didn’t wear them to protect his retinas from the damage of the spotlight. Simon politely sat on the bench, cracked open a fresh piece of Bazooka and scanned the field with his usual enthusiasm, yelling a few cheers of support “Come on guys!” to his teammates who he still believed could engineer a comeback. Simon wasn’t one to let reality ruin his baseball fantasy. And why should he? That’s what baseball is supposed to be at that age.

Seeing Simon sitting comfortably on the bench so naturally, I thought to myself, that was the final kick. Our team was getting pummeled and the game wasn’t over yet, the night was freezing, my entire infield was urinating and missing action (probably warming up under the hand dryer), my fourth relief pitcher was busy dribbling balls three feet in front of home plate during warmups, and now one of my players had thrown himself out of the game for fear of going blind.

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

By the way, Simon finally got the chance to pitch that season for the first time. He allowed one walk, one hit and struck out one player. At that moment, for that boy, the baseball fantasy came true. The smile on his face showed it.

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