Tag Archive for Wantagh Little League

From Fiction to Fact: We’re Playing in the Championship Game

This coming Saturday, I’ll be coaching a Little League team of 11- and 12-year-old boys in a championship game. For the 12’s, this game will be the culmination of their Little League experience. Some boys will move up to play at the Babe Ruth level, on the big fields, jumping from 60-foot basepaths to 90; for others, this game will be it. The end of a boyhood passage, giving way to skateboards and girlfriends, basketball and boredom and who knows what comes next.

For me, this last Little League game is a happy way to conclude a long relationship at Tri-Village Little League in Delmar, NY. I coached my oldest son, Nicholas, for his last four seasons. Then I coached Gavin’s teams for all seven of his seasons, which overlapped with two years of coaching Maggie, too. That’s 11 years of coaching at the Little League level, mostly as manager. Then you can add 7 years of managing in a men’s hardball league, plus Fall Ball, Travel, All-Stars, etc.

A lot of games. A lot of faces. A lot of hanging around the ball field, staring up at the clouds, hoping the rain holds off.

I played, too. This is my age-12 season. Top row, center. Wantagh Little League.

I threw left, batted right, like Cleon Jones and Rickey Henderson.

But this game on Saturday will be my first championship game at the Majors level. I was fortunate enough to coach a team that won at the Intermediate level, some years back with Nick. Took it to ’em, 6-zip, behind the strong arm of Nick Hodem. Unfortunately, my Nick was sick at that time, fighting cancer, and he missed the final game.

In 2008, I published my first hardcover novel, Six Innings, inspired and informed by my lifelong love of the game. The book, subtitled “A Game in the Life” (and yes, that’s a Beatles reference), is about a single championship game and the boys who play in it. I’m proud to say that it was named an ALA Notable and, by Booklist, one of the TOP 10 BEST SPORTS BOOKS OF THE YEAR.

Here’s a couple of paragraphs that come very late in that book:

Coach Reid watches the boys as they celebrate, resists the urge to join them, to leap arms outstretched on top of the pile. No, this is their moment. It isn’t about Coach Reid, or any other adults. It is enough, more than enough, to stand back and watch.

Branden runs up, ecstatic. “We did it, Dad!” he exclaims. “We did it!”

The son throws his arms around his father, and the father squeezes back, hard, hoping to capture the memory like a summer firefly in his hands, wanting the moment to last forever, burning brightly, and knowing that somehow, amazingly, as sure as they stood, it would.

Wish us luck!

I’m Going to the Little League World Series (but 36 years too late)

As a 12-year-old Little Leaguer, I never dreamed of playing in the Little League World Series. We didn’t  have the sports saturation of ESPN back then, and my World Series dreams were of the Major League variety.

That’s me, back row center, age 12, as a Wantagh Little Leaguer: we were a fearsome squad.

Tomorrow morning I’ll be climbing in the car with Lisa and our three children, driving to Williamsport, Pennsylvania, for the Little League World Series, televised on ESPN. Best of all, I’ve been invited as a visiting author to sign books and give readings (Mighty Casey and Six Innings), for most of Sunday. I intend to catch a couple of games while I’m there.

Some historical highlights: Little League Baseball was founded in 1939, and the three teams were named after the original three sponsors: Jumbo Pretzel, Lycoming Dairy, and Lundy Lumber. By 1946, it had expanded to include 12 teams, all in Pennsylvania. The Little League World Series was first televised in 1953, with Jim McKay behind the mike . . .

. . . a team from just up the river, Schenectady, New York, lost 1-0 to Birmingham, Alabama. In 1974, LIttle League rules are changed to allow participation by girls . . .

That’s my Maggie. Love the boys in the background, the intensity.

Kirkland, Washington ends Taiwan’s 31-game winning streak in 1982, before 40,000 fans. Nothing much happens for the next 27 years, until the late summer of 2009, when James Preller brings his family to the World Series.

Thank you, Feiwel and Friends, for the gas money and more. Thank you, the good folks at the Little League Museum, for inviting me.

Now let’s play ball!