Little League baseball fills many youngsters’ late spring and early summer with dreams. For their love of the game comes to life with another season.
America’s pastime sparkles in the Magic City each summer. One of their own, Dave McNally, pitches for the Baltimore Orioles in the big leagues, and he has earned a World Series ring.
Boys throughout the city dream of filling those shoes of their local baseball hero. Alas, one team seems left outside the baselines, experiencing very little success.
They are called “Baseball’s Misfits” in the Central Heights League. Sponsored by the local Masonic Lodge, their nickname is the Masons. Over the past few seasons, many have labeled the team with stinging epitaphs. Other boys can sometimes be so cruel.
Their uniforms look like they are several seasons past their prime. The fading numbers and letters perfectly describe the team’s fortunes over the past couple of seasons . . . zero wins!
Could fortunes be changing for this band of misfits?
A new coach arrives on the scene, with a refreshing outlook for this team. Coach Pete, assisted by Zup, brings along his three sons, and they join a roster filled with a Laird, Zupan, Luetke, Olson, and a trio of Hjellum’s.
A sense of confidence begins to brew among the players. Could their field of dreams finally come true?
With coaches Pete and Zup guiding, the team learns more about the game. They teach and reteach, with patience and conviction, baseball’s fundamentals. More importantly, they build a positive spirit within the team.
The season rolls out, and the boys take the field with a new sense of believing in their field of dreams. However, other contending teams still look down at these former misfits. Watching the Masons, they see new coaches, a few added players, and the same old, fading uniforms. Sorry boys, not this season!
Playing through their schedule, the boys match wins with the other top team. People begin to take notice of this new team on the block. They look legitimate.
Entering the final game, the team needs one more win to capture the league championship. Fueled by past disappointments and demeaning ridicule, their destiny will now be fulfilled. League Champions!
Taking their championship dreams one step further, the team moves on to the city tournament. Here awaits a field of champions from the other neighborhood leagues in the city.
Losing in the semifinals dashes their ultimate dream. Despite the tears, the boys have experienced an amazing season, fulfilling their summer of dreams.
Special Note: While this account has been embellished a bit, the story is true. I had the pleasure to play on this team as a 12-year old. If you go back to the picture, you can find my Dad and two brothers (far left in the back, Coach Pete; front row far left, Doug; front row far right, Greg; and in the second row, second from the right is yours truly).
Today’s guest post is written by one of my grandsons, who enjoys playing club and high school soccer. He has allowed me to share his story with you. Enjoy a look at his personal journey.
“Can I just keep playing football instead,” I asked as I started to feel adversity in my path to the NFL. My face was contorted with confusion and frustration, as no matter what I said, my parents came up with an answer to contradict my arguments. “There are small people who play football too!” My mom replied calmly, “I just don’t think it’s safe for you to be playing football, with all of the injuries that could happen, and especially because you’re smaller.” My dad then explained all about how I could be a great soccer player, with how fast and athletic I was. As the dreaded conversation lagged on, I felt my hopes and dreams draining out the window, the aspiration to go to the NFL fading, the whole world seeming to crush on top of my little 8 year old self. “Okay, I guess I’ll try it,” I said gloomily. Little did I know how much those few words could impact my whole future and how it would play out.
December 13, 2019 (10:30 AM)
The Super Y League Finals. In Florida. On the best complex I’ve ever played. This is the real deal. My inner thoughts poured inside my brain as I started to feel the magnitude of the situation. As I sat there in the car with my dad, my hands were fidgeting with nervousness and excitement, the anticipation getting to me. I started to lace up my black Adidas cleats, reminding myself that I have a job to do on the field, reminding myself to work as hard as I can, and reminding myself to tackle the task in front of me. “Hey bud,” my dad began. “Are you nervous?” “Yeah, quite a bit,” I replied. A short pause. “Hey, don’t worry about those small mistakes. If you make a bad pass, go back and get the ball back. If you get beat on defense, recover and work hard to get the ball back. All you can do is work as hard as you can and put in 110% in everything you do. And that’s not just on the soccer field. That’s also in school, in church, and how you act on a daily basis. You’ll face adversity in life, but sometimes you just have to take on that adversity head on.” Now a bit more motivated, my laces all tight and snug, I stepped out of the car. The Florida sun was already beaming onto me, opening up pores where sweat was impatiently waiting to be released. The bright green Bermuda grass was cut short, with mowing lines still imprinted on the pitch. Despite having about 45 minutes till kickoff, a couple of my teammates were already there, nervously chatting about what could be the biggest few games we’ve played as a team so far. “Let’s go,” I said to myself as I stepped onto the field, making my way towards my teammates. The pressure of the game has gotten to my head, adversity staring in front of me again, waiting to be fought.
The tires of the white Honda Pilot rumbled along the gravel road towards a small grass field surrounded by a dense forest. While making our way towards the field, my heart started beating a bit faster. This is going to be much different than football practice, I thought to myself. “You’ll be fine out there. You’re fast. You’re athletic. All of the players had to learn at one point,” my mom noted, almost reading my mind at that moment. I got out of the car with Jack, one of my closest friends, to try this whole soccer thing out with his team. My new bright yellow cleats, still clutched in my hand waiting to be put on, were reflecting off the bright sunshine as I walked nervously to greet what will be my new teammates and friends in the future. Going up to the coach, Jack talks first: “Hey coach Lazaro, this is Caden. He’s just here to practice and see how he feels about soccer.” “Nice to meet you Caden. Alright, let’s see if you can play.” I, being a shyer person, was quiet during the introduction, unsure what to think about the coach, and the situation as a whole. Now putting on those yellow Nike cleats, I felt a sliver of hope, feeling that this could be the sport I end up playing, the sport that develops me as a person, and the sport that grows me physically, mentally, and spiritually.
December 13, 2019 (11:30 AM)
Barcelona United was warming up on the side of the field, preparing for the first match of the infamous Super Y League Finals. Nervousness was visible in the teammates’ appearance, contrasting with the fire in each and every one of their eyes. In spite of the pressure of the game, I knew that I still had a job to do on the field and to overcome the challenge the game entails. With 5 minutes left until the game starts, Coach Ika (my 2nd coach I played for at Barcelona United) called us back over to the bench.
“Alright, this is it. This is what all of our blood, sweat, and tears all came together for. I’ve seen how good this team can play. In fact, I believe that we can be one of the best teams in the country, but that’s only if we work together as a team, and everyone plays their role to the fullest. Wingers, stay wide and make runs down the flank. Defenders, play it safe and contain. I don’t want us to be playing a long ball game as our strategy, but if it is needed in the back, clear the ball out. Midfielders, distribute the ball to our wingers and strikers, and play aggressively on 50/50 balls to win the ball back in the middle of the field. The other team has this tall and fast center mid who they like to distribute the ball through. Stay tight with him, and deny him the ball. I already told you guys the starting lineup, so let’s come out here and work. We didn’t fly all this way to get blown out every single game. Okay, let’s go, hands in.”
“Barça on 3, 1 2 3 Barça!,” we all shout as we head onto the field. I stand right in the center of our half of the field, positioning in the center mid spot. The cleats, inching into the short-cut grass, were ready for the task in hand, ready to tackle the opposition.
December 13, 2019 (11:45 AM)
As the referee blew the whistle, everything started to go in slow motion. I raced up to mark a man in the middle while the opposing team played the ball back to their defense. The right back played a long ball down the sideline to the winger, the ball traveling as close to the boundary as possible without going out. The winger took the ball down the sideline, beat our outside defender, crossed it in, and their striker immediately found the ball and placed it into the back of the net. Within 2 minutes of the start time, we were already down 1-0. This could be a long game, I dreadingly thought. The opposing team’s audience erupted, drowning out Coach Ika’s remarks to the defense. Adversity was now mocking us, questioning whether we should even belong in this tournament. 15 minutes has passed without a goal, with our team controlling most of the possession of the ball despite being down. Suddenly, a corner kick was given to us. Our captain leisurely went up to take the kick, and lofted a beautiful ball into the center of the box. The goalie punched it out, but right to one of our defenders sitting at the top of the box. He took a crack at the ball, and it deflected off one opposing player and went into the net. 1-1. The other team kicked off again, passing the ball back to their defender, when that defender fumbled the ball and our striker immediately took advantage of it, stealing the ball and taking it downfield to eventually score in the side netting of the goal. 2-1. Another 20 minutes later, we scored again, this time a shot outside of the box curling inside the far post. By now the pressure has gone out the window, our team gliding down the field, connecting one by one to each other, or like my coach liked to say, “good soccer.” The goals just kept piling onto one another, eventually racking up to 7-1 at the end of the game. Hope for the season to continue was now visible. Well, little did I know that I would end up playing fútbol instead of football.
As grandparents, my wife and I are equally proud of each of our 11 grandchildren in Ohio and Montana. It has been a blessing to watch this young man grow and mature in his faith, education, and favorite sport. Here are links to two previously published poems about his soccer adventures.
Growing up in my childhood neighborhood, there was a little store just a few blocks away. My brothers and I made many a journey to the store for milk, bread, and other quick-to-find essentials for our mother. I cannot recall forgetting the milk and bread, but having a few coins in my pocket was treasure waiting to be spent on the candy found there.
The poem lists a few of the types of candy found back in the 1960s. Do you have a favorite candy from your childhood?