I gotta admit, playing Little League to me was a rite of passage. One year, I was in orange, the next, when I turned 13, I was in blue. The teammates changed and you realized nothing was forever. You grew as a kid and made some new arch enemies on the team that was your rival, even if you slept over at their house later that evening. Every year, you’d have practices leading up to the greatest day of the season, OPENING DAY. When it got close to opening day, your coach would bring THE BOX to practice, and everyone would see THE BOX throughout practice. You were distracted by THE BOX and it may have caused you to lose concentration on the fielding drill because your eyes were transfixed on THE BOX. For those transgressions, you might have had to do pushups or running drills. I know “everyone on the line” were words you’d never be able to enjoy when said consecutively. Why was THE BOX so important? It held the Holy Grail of baseball, your crisp new uniform. You’d work out during class in school (sorry teachers, the digestive system of a salamander just wasn’t as important) the returning players would probably get their old numbers from the year before, and the numbers rarely went over 16, so you’d have it narrowed down to a few precious numbers that you’d like to get, kind of like a pseudo NFL draft but with baseball jerseys. Upon the end of practice, THE BOX would make it’s appearance and the 12 year old version of trading at the Stock Market would commence. There were elbows thrown, barters made, might even have been a bribe or two to other players to get that precious number 7, which was vacated by the kid who wore it last year who moved out of town. Once in your hands, you were now ready to attack the world. Upon the arrival of opening day, you’d also break out the new cleats, the new hat (which was also the only official place to keep track of your team’s record throughout the year), check it in the mirror a few times before you left for the opening ceremonies and then prayed you’d make it through the day to your game with it still clean, which inevitably it never was. The entire schedule was known to everyone and you’d stop to watch games to see the ace pitchers face each other, and when it got out of hand, head over as a group to get a soda from the snackbar or head to the playground for a game of hot box. This was Utopia.
Nowadays, that opening day adrenalin kick has transformed into a money grab with no games being played. The Opening Day Carnival is now a yearly occurence. The first game of the season is played on a weekday? WHAT IS GOING ON HERE?? Does Major League Baseball stop to say “It’s Opening Day! There will be no games played!” Hell no. They play ball. This particular trip to Forestville saddened me to see no games being played on the bottom field and the Storm playing the River Cats on the top field, with signs that said NO COACHING ZONE on the fences. What happened to the guy yelling over the fence in Left Field? He’s been replaced with that sign. The parent giving signs from the stands? Nope, now he’s holding a pitch counter. What happened to the US vs. THEM? Last night a coach from the other team was giving the other coach advice on how to help a kid mid-at bat. WHAT HAPPENED TO LITTLE LEAGUE? I used to have a baseball card of Rickey Henderson in my back pocket. Nowadays, it’s an addition to the “uniform” and most likely would be considered a health hazard. I don’t get it. Our coach recommended beer and marshmallows before, during and after games. An obvious joke, but in yesterday vs. today’s Little League dichotomy (thank you El Mo High), chances are a kid would tell their parents and instead of laughing, a parent would tell the League Board of Directors and that coach would be removed for telling a joke. What would today’s Little League say about our batting tee which was a car rim with a pipe welded to it with a radiator hose holding the ball? Is this safe? Will someone sue us? Forget the fact we all were near passing out and throwing up at a practice as we experienced our first taste of Copenhagen at 12 years old. I’d like to think that’s why I DON’T chew now. Hell, it’s a wonder I graduated with the negative influence Little League had on me. Looking back, it was the greatest time of childhood, those summers in Forestville followed by swimming in the Glover’s pool afterwards/going to Lemos’s house after a game and seeing all the guys at J’s Amusements afterwards.
Last night, I watched for four innings and couldn’t do it anymore. It was baseball, yes. But a controlled, vacuum sealed, skeleton of baseball. I saw one “coach” who I’d recommend continue. The rest were there in uniform only. It’s basically a two hour daycare, except with more restrictions. What about little brother in and around the stands running around throwing apples and climbing on trees? Nope. This tree was braced to prevent climbing, presumably to save the tree or prevent the tree from running away.
I just don’t understand where my El Molino Little League went. Maybe the ones who are still there didn’t see it coming and rolled with the punches so to speak. Maybe they just don’t know any different. Even scarier, but maybe they don’t care.
To the ones who were there and then left and came back, it’s downright depressing.”