America's game; Brunswick's triumph
It was America in miniature, all of the best of our great nation displayed on a local Little League field.
The pieces fell into place after hundreds of hours of preparation, as is always the case. Parents and league officials came home after long days of work and then drove to the Marvin E. Younkins Field – on Cummings Drive in Brunswick – to spend the evening hours preparing for the onslaught.
All 15 state district Little League teams were invited to the official 9-10 and 10-11 Maryland State Tournament.
It starts with a parade of players, each team is introduced and fresh-faced players proudly march around the playing field. The pride and excitement are clearly evident, both in the eyes of the combatants and their parents/grandparents. You can almost see the players sizing up their competition, measuring the height and girth of their soon-to-be opponents.
What is it about fresh young faces, brightly colored uniforms against lush green grass, and a clear blue sky that causes our pulse to quicken? The crack of the bat, the smack of a ball into a well-worn glove, and the smell of grilling hot dogs seems the essence of summer and the whole American experience.
These players were the best of the best, each one a champion in his or her own district. Strong arms, fast bats, and aggressive base runners, these were kids who have been taught the game by adults who were great players in their day.
It was a pleasure to watch, America's game being played the way it was designed, without the greed and narcissism associated with the professional ranks.
Sure, tempers flared a bit. A couple of parents forgot this was Little League and decided to channel Earl Weaver, the former Orioles’ manager. Some folks aren't satisfied with using humor to challenge the eyesight and judgment of an umpire. One fan got so heated he had to be escorted out of the facility, but why let one bad attitude affect a week-long event?
One had to feel for the poor kid, standing in the outfield, watching Dad lose his cool and act in a manner beneath his son's own age. As the local police helped his father regain his composure and exit the facility, thoughts turned to the weight that same conduct places on a child.
A dark spot on the tournament, to be sure. But a minor spot just the same.
A column about a local youth baseball tournament is much easier to write when the local children are victorious, but it's not essential. The joy of watching a pitcher hurl fire from the practice mound, or the manager and coaches lining up the bats and icing down the water, makes this about more than who wins.
Did I mention that Brunswick won?
The mother of one of the players was pacing a dirt path in a grass walkway. Her son was coming up to bat, the score was tied, runners were in scoring position with two outs, and the opposing pitcher seemed to have great stuff that day.
That scene brought to mind a National Geographic special about the African plains. In that particular program, a lioness was watching her young cub compete with other carnivores for a carcass. She paced back and forth across the veldt, anxiously watching her cub dart in and out, growing in boldness with each nibble.
Like the lioness, this baseball mom would have no doubt rushed into the fray had the need presented itself. It didn't, as her son did his best, took the pitcher to a full count and then went down swinging on a high outside curve.
Contrast that with the guy who got ejected for threatening the ump with a baseball bat. Both children played their hearts out, both sets of parents were full-tilt into the game, but in one case, the lesson is that you give it your best and enjoy the chance.
And that, in a nutshell, is what this is really all about. A bright (and very hot) summer day, a beautifully prepared playing field, young players anxious to hit the field to play a game they love, parents who sacrifice time and money to encourage their children to chase their dreams, and a community that places a high value on sportsmanship, competition and a well-turned double play.
Did I mention that Brunswick is now the home of the 2011 Maryland State 10-11 Little League Champions?