Little League Blues

little league

Don’t ask me why I decided to manage a Little League baseball team. That’s a question I have to take up with my psychiatrist.

There I was, in Phoenix, AZ. I had a decent job reporting for the Phoenix Gazette. I was happily married to an attractive redhead from Cullman, AL. We had two children of our own aged five and nine. There was absolutely no reason on earth why I would want to volunteer to coach a baseball team made up of a bunch of nine-year-olds whose parents only wanted a babysitter to give them more time to spend around a pool with their friends.

That was something I should have done, spend more time around the pool. Instead I signed up to manage the Glendale Pirates.

My wife just smiled indulgently when I told her the news.

‘What do you know about baseball?,’ she asked.

‘I played it in high school. I was a pitcher. Had a pretty good knuckle ball, too. It kind of dipped and drove the hitters on the other team crazy when I could get it across the plate. They absolutely could not hit it. True, sometimes it was because I threw the ball behind them. But that’s baseball.’

‘Okay, Casey Stengel,’ she said. ‘Can I fetch you a cup of coffee?’

A week before our opening game, I met with my team at a baseball field about a mile from our house. A roster of 20 kids were waiting for me, most of them with their mothers. A few dads were there, but not many. Most of them were at home or at a neighborhood tavern enjoying a cold beer with their friends.

A woman in pink pedal pushers strode up to me leading a sullen-faced nine-year-old in hand.

‘I’m Kathy,’ she said beaming. ‘This is Brian. He wants to play third base.’

‘I don’t wanna do anything of the sort,’ Brian said, pulling away. ‘Dad wants me to play third base. I wanna play soccer.’

Kathy ignored her son’s pleas. She turned her son over to me and promised to attend every game. Since her husband managed a 7-11, she promised to show up at every game with a cooler of soft drinks. I told her that would be wonderful.

We had three practice sessions to get the team into shape before the season opened. My friend Dave Molina, whose favorite liquid refreshment was Coors Beer, had agreed to be my assistant on one condition: I had to buy the first round of drinks after the game ended. It was blackmail, but I was desperate and accepted his offer.

Our first game was against the Sunnyslope Cardinals, a team that had finished fourth in the league the previous season. Their coach was a veteran Little League manager who had been a sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps. He scowled as his kids ran onto the field. He never smiled once during the game.

Me? I was all smiles. Hey, that was all I had going for us.

As we gathered outside our dugout, I told the kids, ‘Go out there and have fun. Break a leg. Sorry. Don’t break a leg. Your parents would never forgive me. If you win, I’ll treat everybody to banana splits at the Dairy Queen.’

We lost, 10-1.

Before our second contest, I walked out to the mound and called my team into a huddle. My pitcher was a Hispanic kid named Juan. He wore glasses as thick as Coke bottles and sometimes had trouble finding the catcher — forget the plate — because of his poor eyesight.

‘Juan, pitch a good game,’ I said, patting him on the back. ‘IF you win, it’s Dairy Queen time.’

We lost that one 9-2. My third grader split his pants sliding into first base. His mother ran onto the field with a needle and thread and sewed the rip while he cried and the fans applauded.

Dave came up to me while we were loading the bats and balls into my station wagon.

‘Let’s get this over, Buddy,’ he whispered. ‘I need a drink.’

In our third game, my second baseman, Scott, stole home from third base, beating the throw by two feet. The only problem was that he had been coaching on the sidelines and wasn’t the runner. He left the runner behind, thinking he was on base, when the opposing pitcher threw a wild pitch that carried to the backstop. We lost that one 8-0.

‘That was a good run, Scott,’ I said. ‘You may not pay much attention to the game, but you’re very fast.’ He smiled at the compliment and his mother gave him a hug.

We lost our next four games. The closest score was 4-2. My team played well, but they just couldn’t quite get the job done. I tried to keep their spirits up by assuring them they were improving and added, ‘No problem. We’ll get them next time.’

That wasn’t enough for my left fielder, Anthony.

Coach,’ he said, ‘I know you been promising to take us to the Dairy Queen if we won. We only have two games to go before the season ends. I could really use a banana split. Do you think you could take us to the Dairy Queen anyhow? I mean, we almost beat them.

I agreed and treated the kids to banana splits. Two of the mothers, bless them, split the cost with me.

My kids really tried the following Saturday. They were leading, 9-8, going into the final inning, but the other team snatched our victory away by scoring two runs on a double with the bases loaded.

As we headed to the parking lot, I complimented the team for doing a terrific job.

‘Next Saturday is our final game,’ I said. ‘We’re 0 and 9 for the season, but I’m proud of all of you. Nobody tried harder. To me, you’re all winners.’

On Saturday morning, I awoke with a fever, sore throat and began throwing up. It was the flu and I felt sick as a dog. While my wife treated me with aspirins and hot lemonade, I called a couple of mothers and told them I couldn’t make the game. One of the mothers, Angelina, whose son, Juan, was scheduled to pitch, told me not to worry.

‘My husband will sit in for you,’ she said. ‘Get well.’

I slept most of the morning. Around 3 p.m., the phone rang. It was Scott, and he could barely speak.

‘Coach,’ he stammered. ‘We — we WON! We beat them, 7-4. Juan pitched a great game and I got two hits.’

I screamed. My wife ran into the room and found me dancing around the bed like I was stepping on hot coals.

‘They won,’ I told her. ‘They actually won a game. Unbelievable.’

My wife looked at me with a bemused smile. She didn’t have to say it, but I knew what she was thinking. I wasn’t there to manage the team, and the kids pulled off the victory. I didn’t care. We won, and that was all that mattered.

When I recovered from the flu, the parents insisted on throwing a party for Dave and me at a popular pizza restaurant. They all showed up with my team and picked up the tab. It was a day I will never forget.

Dave came over to me carrying two beers.

‘Here’s one for you, Buddy. Maybe we’ll never win the World Series, but we sure gave it a try, didn’t we?’

‘We sure did, Partner,’ I said. ‘I’ll drink to that.’

Geno Laurenzi Jr. About Geno Laurenzi Jr.

I grew up in coal mining country in Western Pennsylvania. My father was a coal miner and steel worker. I told stories to my two younger brothers and sisters as well as to the neighborhood kids from the time I was old enough to play baseball and chase the neighborhood girls.

I sold my first short story when I won a national fiction writing contest at age 16 and decided to become a newspaper reporter. I was 19 when I became sports editor of the Tucumcari Daily News, a small daily newspaper in Tucumcari, N.M., the heart of 'Billy the Kid Country.'

I have worked for dozens of newspapers in many parts of the United States and the Caribbean, including the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner and Phoenix Gazette. I served as Arizona Correspondent for both the Wall Street Journal and People Weekly Magazine for six years, and have written for everything from the pulp magazines -- Argosy, True, Saga, etc. -- to the tabloids like the Star and National Enquirer. I also have been published by the general lcirculatlion magazines -- Life, Reader's Digest, Western Horseman and quite a few more. I have been a ghostwriter and have published three books for other people, and recently completed my first novel, a Christian Western that is in the hands of my agent, Trish Beaty, who is headquartered in New York. I have interviewed many celebrities over the years, from Johnny Cash to Ronald Reagan, Willie Nelson and Richard Nixon. Heck, I even spent six months covering the Charles Manson 'Family' murder trial in Los Angeles for the Herald-Examiner where I was a reporter for four glorious years.

Humor appeals to me because I like to make people smile. You can contact me at laurenzigeno@gmail.com.

Geno Laurenzi Jr. About Geno Laurenzi Jr.

I grew up in coal mining country in Western Pennsylvania. My father was a coal miner and steel worker. I told stories to my two younger brothers and sisters as well as to the neighborhood kids from the time I was old enough to play baseball and chase the neighborhood girls.

I sold my first short story when I won a national fiction writing contest at age 16 and decided to become a newspaper reporter. I was 19 when I became sports editor of the Tucumcari Daily News, a small daily newspaper in Tucumcari, N.M., the heart of 'Billy the Kid Country.'

I have worked for dozens of newspapers in many parts of the United States and the Caribbean, including the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner and Phoenix Gazette. I served as Arizona Correspondent for both the Wall Street Journal and People Weekly Magazine for six years, and have written for everything from the pulp magazines -- Argosy, True, Saga, etc. -- to the tabloids like the Star and National Enquirer. I also have been published by the general lcirculatlion magazines -- Life, Reader's Digest, Western Horseman and quite a few more. I have been a ghostwriter and have published three books for other people, and recently completed my first novel, a Christian Western that is in the hands of my agent, Trish Beaty, who is headquartered in New York. I have interviewed many celebrities over the years, from Johnny Cash to Ronald Reagan, Willie Nelson and Richard Nixon. Heck, I even spent six months covering the Charles Manson 'Family' murder trial in Los Angeles for the Herald-Examiner where I was a reporter for four glorious years.

Humor appeals to me because I like to make people smile. You can contact me at laurenzigeno@gmail.com.

  • Connie

    Isn’t there a saying that says “it’s not whether you win or lose but how you play the game “. Good attitude’s are contagious like smiles. Connie

Smiles For All