My son just finished his first season of Little League. He played in the Western Howard County age 7-8 Baseball League. I felt it was a rewarding experience for all involved.
His team, the Brewers, had an excellent coach, Rusty Johnson, who worked well with his players, giving them the encouragement to be the best they could be. Johnson enjoyed working with the children, and taught them the skills of the game in an understanding and non-threatening manner. And this was his first year of coaching.
The players on the team are a great bunch of kids, and their parents are supportive and downright nice folks. The game locations were most picturesque in the wide open spaces of western Howard County: fields in back of the elementary schools of Bushy Park, Clarksville, Lisbon and West Friendship.
This team, the coaches and the parents don't fit the stereotypes you see and hear about when you think of Little League. In fact, this seemed to be true of most of the league, with a few exceptions.
There was a parent from one team we played who gave a good impression of Earl Weaver when she came on the field to question an umpire's decision. And then there was the coach of another team, who had the reputation of being a "win at all costs" kind of guy. This gentleman, who I believe had an undefeated team, once questioned the ethics of our coach when his team was down a run late in the game.
He claimed our coach was using his best players in the same positions for too many innings (which is not done in this league) to defeat his team. This was not being done. This accusation was insulting to Johnson, who always kept a good rotation going in the field, and never questioned another coach's judgment in this area.
The opposing coach later apologized, giving the excuse that the couldn't tell some of our players apart. It is my opinion that his action was a deliberate tactic used to throw off our team's concentration and momentum by interrupting the game when they were leading.
In this particular game our opponents eventually won, but not without some further controversy. When their winning run crossed the plate, the game was essentially over, since it was the final inning of the game and their team had the last at-bat. However, Mr. "Winning is Everything" insisted on letting his players continue to bat (and score) until his team completed the inning. I felt this was a little unnecessary, and wondered what the point was of running up the score after you've already won the game. What does this teach the kids?
This was the only time I ever got a little hot under the collar during the entire season. In fact, the reason this incident stands out enough to be mentioned is because it was the only unpleasant confrontation that our team experienced during the season. Some people forget that these games are for the kids, not for the gratification of adult egos.
My wife, son and I are really going to miss the baseball games now that the season is over. It was something to look forward to during the week. They made for a good ending to the day, watching the games and talking to our new friends. And all too soon, just as the weather began to be consistently good, it was over.
The Brewers played their last tournament game, a winner, on Saturday, June 13, and players and parents were invited later that afternoon to a picnic at Johnson's place. Trophies and certificates were awarded and tasty eats were enjoyed. And a three-inning baseball game between the parents and the kids finished off the day (We played to a 7-7 tie).
We hope to see these folks again, and can only wish that next season will be as fun as this one has been.