I think it's safe to say that our Little League team, the Royals, is enjoying a fine season despite a mysterious phenomenon that seems to be causing the players to try to kill each other.
Consider the ugly business that has transpired thus far:
Our shortstop, John, accidentally drilled our pitcher, Danny, in the side of the head with the ball. Our first baseman, Sean C., threw a warm-up toss to our catcher, Sean R., who went down as if he'd caught a poisoned dart from a blowgun. (The injury turned out to be considerably less exotic. The ball had hit his sore finger.)
Then the other day I looked up just in time to see one of our outfielders, Chris L., taking his swings in the on-deck circle while narrowly missing the head of another outfielder, Mike K.
If you're scoring along with us, that's a total of six players involved in unprovoked intra-squad attacks, which is not doing much for team unity.
I keep thinking it's something in the Gatorade.
The alternative, of course, is almost too disturbing to contemplate, namely, that I might be managing a bunch of 8- and 9-year-olds destined to eventually be clearing the shoulders of Mississippi roadways as part of a chain gang.
As you can imagine, it has been extremely unsettling playing amid the wailing of ambulance sirens and the anguished cries of: "He . . . he tried to kill me!"
Nevertheless, as of this writing, the Royals have a 2-1-1 record and will actually sit next to each other on the bench without full body armor.
Now about that won-loss record.
Our philosophy on the Royals is this: Winning is all that matters.
We're not interested in learning the fundamentals of the game. We're not interested in good sportsmanship. We're not interested in having fun.
All we care about is winning.
So if we have to take out a player on the other team with an illegal slide, if we have to start a beanball war, if we have to pay off the umpires or cheat in the score book, if we have to hire some Mafia thug to intimidate the opposing manager so that his team doesn't show up and we win by forfeit, then by God that's exactly what we'll . . . hey, HEY! Relax. I'm only kidding.
(I can see the moms of our players turning pale reading the above paragraph and saying to their husbands: "Honey, maybe Mikey would be better off on another team. Where it's a little less, um, competitive.")
Actually, we do stress fun on the Royals, although some of our players seem to have trouble with that concept.
Last week we were batting against the A's when I suddenly noticed two of our outfielders were missing.
Fearing that one might have whacked the other over the head with a Louisville Slugger and left him bound and gagged in the tall grass, we launched an all-out search.
But it turned out that the two, Dan and Mike S., had simply wandered over to climb a nearby tree. OK, fun's fun. But you have to draw the line somewhere.
If there's one thing we need work on, it's in the area of concentration.
This was pointed out to me by our assistant coach, Lloyd, as we clung to a shaky 3-0 lead against the Mets in the bottom of the fifth inning.
A quick glance at our defense revealed this: Our left fielder, Chris L., was watching two dogs fight. Our center fielder, Ben, was squatting down, intently examining the grass in front of him.
The infield was equally alert. Sean C. and Nick were throwing fistfuls of dirt at each other. Danny was practicing his karate stance. John appeared to be working on some sort of dance step from "A Chorus Line."
About the only guy paying attention was our pitcher, Mike N., which was nice to see.
I don't know . . . sometimes it seems that we could use a motivational speaker.
I'm thinking of someone along the lines of Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, someone who could light a fire under our players before every game. Maybe I'll just get the guy who drives the ice cream truck to say a few words.
The point is, we just don't seem as focused as we should be.
This occurred to me when we were going over the importance of hitting the cut-off man and Sean R. raised his hand and said: "Know who the meanest kid in fourth grade is?"
This segued nicely into another baseball-related discussion when Sean. C. asked whether a rhinoceros could beat an elephant in a fight.
I took a guess and said the elephant would mop up the floor with the rhino.
My thinking here was: OK, the rhino has that big horn over his nose. Fine. But the elephant has sheer mass going for him. And with those huge feet he could just stomp that rhino flat.
Again, that was only a guess.