In my town there was nothing to do. That sentiment was not only from rebellious teenagers. Even the kids and adults felt that way about our town. The community heads tried their best. They sponsored new events that always ended with rain and the same people showing up. We as a collective town had nothing. The only slight joy the town provided was the park in the middle of town,and in the middle of the park, the baseball fields.
For whatever reason, the fields were nicer than the middle and high school fields. The town’s little league program was nowhere near the best in the state let alone the country, but man did everyone care about it. Adults coming home from work would sometimes swing by to say hi to their friends and cheer on a bunch of middle school children play baseball. To make it in my town’s league made you a pseudo-celebrity for a year or two. Kids younger than you would look up to you like a hero and adults that did not even have a kid in the league would pick up a team to support. Friday was a day to come together as a town and enjoy baseball on a fundamental level.
Everyone knew about it. Watching “the game” wasn’t our high school football team, but the little league ones. Teenagers and parents would come to watch their little kids play. Other adults would come to socialize, eat some under-cooked hot dogs, and drink enough to still be able to drive home. Even the senior citizens could would appear; out of breath from their mid-afternoon strolls. They’d plop in a seat to record the kids statistics and enjoy the next generation.
I never felt too attached to my town, but those years of baseball helped me appreciate the togetherness the town had when it came to the league. The crowd that gathered to cheer for their arbitrarily chosen team. The warm evening air that became a cool breeze as night approached and the lights turned on to illuminate players and mosquitoes alike.
Baseball was king in my town. Every boy dreamt of playing in the Major League. Not the MLB no. The oldest group the league had to offer was made up of sixth and seventh graders (though I can’t remember every detail). I just remember it was in middle school.). Even in kindergarten, the boys would be fantasizing over becoming the best the league had seen and get the celebrity status that came with it. If you were one of the pillar players for a team, you were immediately popular. Older kids would high-five you. Adults would compliment you in the streets. Homeless people would give you change. Being among the elite came with its own prestige and risks as well. You were expected to be the best in every aspect.
There was a mystique among the pillars. They were the players that had superpowers when they stepped onto the field. Coaches would have to prepare strategies around countering them. Every team had at least one and in rare instances more. If asked any player who the pillars were for that year, they’d rattle off every single one along with what made them a pillar.
It was a privilege to be in the league. It was an honor to be a pillar.
See not everyone made it into the league. The popularity of it in the town had made it so almost every sixth and seventh grader wanted to play. There were set tryouts, something unheard of at that level. On a cold early spring morning, sixth graders and the occasional seventh grader would spend a grueling 6 hours being test and analyzed. There was more running in that one day than the rest of the season combined. Fielding,batting,pitching,base-running. They were all drilled, then a small break followed by going through it again. At the end of the day, the coaches would draft their teams in private. The release of the team rosters would be out by the end of week, stapled to the side of the snack shack in the center of all three of the baseball fields. Over the course of the weekend, adults would take their children down to the fields. They would get tosee either their dreams come to fruition or get stomped down by a single piece of paper.
There were always plenty of tears.
When my class became sixth graders, the first day of school was not filled with talks about teachers, or summer activities. Who gave a crap about some old farts, the real magic was the Majors tryouts. They were in the Spring, but even in the Fall, everyone was trying to figure out who was going to be on what team. The only other time I had ever witness so many kids in my class talking about a singular topic was when a kid poured some hand sanitizer in a teacher’s coffee.
I was not one of those people.
I played baseball since the earliest possible age, but I was one of the worst players in the league. I knew it, the other kids knew it, my Dad knew it. Baseball was the first thing I’d talk about with people I met. I loved the stats, the lore, the culture, but when it came to using the bat to hit the ball, I failed each and every time. The tee-ball stand almost threw a no-hitter against me. Whatever team I was on was a stinker, blowing game after game. I don’t think any of them even made it to .500.
I was moping about what I would do with all of my free time this Spring. There was no way I made a team, unless the coaches were blind, deaf, and did not know the rules of baseball. In that scenario my chances were still not the best.
In the lower leagues, I’d always beg my Dad to stay to watch “the Majors” games. I fantasized over leading my team to a championship and being a pillar. Pillars were popular, confident, and had superpowers when they stepped onto the field. The pillar I that I idolized the most was nicknamed “Sky”. Every single ball he hit arced high and always managed to drop out of outfielders’ reach. Anytime the Reds played, I went down to the park to see him in action.
Some kids looked up to Superman, but I looked up to a kid that would go on to work at a local gas station…
While going over my plans of becoming a gas station attendant, someone grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me. It was Matt, one of my oldest friends.
“You pumped for the Majors?”, Matt said grinning from ear to ear. He was always way too positive off the field, but once he got on the field he was more business than a Japanese CEO.
“It’ll be weird watchin’ from the sidelines”, I replied without looking up.
“Oh come-on, tryouts haven’t even started and you think you’re already cut.”
I looked up from my desk, “It’s a little bit different for kids who aren’t locked for a spot.”
Matt was the son of one of the coaches, the Tigers. The sons of coaches automatically made the league and almost all of them were pillars the year they got in. He was one of the fastest pitchers in our class and hitting was already second-nature to him.
Everything was coming up Matt and his Majors career hadn’t even begun.
Matt looked hurt. He sat down next to me with a large sigh, saying, ” I can think of at least 5 kids worse than you no doubt.”
“That’s a lie and you know it.”
Matt shrugged,” Who knows maybe my dad picks you so we can witness your destruction of the league”.
At that moment, my mind raced to being one of the pillars with my first friend and dominating the league. Looking back now, that was a load of cow manure for plenty of reasons. Matt was not only destined to be a pillar from the start, but he was put on one of the top teams too. Though the turnover of coaches was biennial by nature, cultures of teams were carried down as a form of adding more variety and tradition. The annual contenders were the Tigers, Athletics, and Rockies. Those three of the eight were always the best, placing victory above all else in their cultures with slight variations. All teams wanted to win, but only those three were successful. They attracted the most competitive coaches, who in turn drafted the best kids, and continued the dominance. When you fantasized about being in the league, it was wearing one of those colors.
I was still in my daze of glory when class began, and my off season preparations began.