A Little Leaguer's big dreams come true

May 26, 2002|By Michael Paskoff

THE BOY stands at attention with his ball cap in his right hand placed gently over his heart.

He's quiet, but if you look closely you see his lips moving. When the anthem is over, he resets the cap on his head, spits and adjusts himself inside his protective cup, just like the major-leaguers. He's 6 years old.

The game is on.

He's the third batter, and when it's his turn, all eyes are on him. He knocks the dirt from his cleats, tightens up his batting gloves, and with a BIG smile, digs in. He's smiling because he knows what will happen next. The pitcher, a 9-year-old who looks 12, glares in. He has no idea what trouble the boy will bring.

The boy takes the field. This time, he is the pitcher. Warming up, he's all smiles, but when the batter steps in the grin is replaced by "the stare." Cap pulled down reeeeaaallly low, scowling over his black glove for the catcher's non-signal, his eyes are practically hidden - surely to inspire further terror in his bigger yet overmatched foes. Four batters and three strikeouts later, the boy and his team run off the field. It's again their turn to hit.

Bottom of the fifth in a six-inning game, and the boy is playing catcher. Black socks up to his knees like the old-timers, that black smudgy stuff under his eyes to block the glare, and that waddle you have when trying to walk with all the catcher's gear on.

It's a close game and every out counts. The batter swings and hits a high foul pop behind home plate. Most Little League catchers can't even follow the ball's flight straight up, but most Little Leaguers don't practice this play at home. The boy springs from his crouch, tracks the ball and (while still wearing his mask) makes the catch look easy. The inning is over.

Top of the last. The boy's team is losing by a couple. The team loads the bases. Who's up? The boy. The smile is gone. The bottom lip comes out. The jaw sets. It's winning time. The pitch. The swing. The sound.

The sounds. Clink of the aluminum bat. Coaches yelling, "RUN!" Coaches yelling, "Chase the ball." Teammates yelling, "Hurry, hurry." The boy speeding around the bases, almost lapping his base runners.

"Throw it home, throw it home."

The boy slides, the dust flies.

"SAFE!" "GRAND SLAM! GRAND SLAM!"

Hats are thrown skyward at the bench. Hats are thrown down in the infield. The boy is greeted by his mates, who pummel him with glee.

Last half of the sixth, the boy's team 14, the others 12, and the others have two on and two outs. The boy is at short.

The batter swings and hits one to the center fielder, who is very intense - intense on picking clover at the moment.

The boy: "Hurry, hurry, throw me the ball." The center fielder obliges.

The boy turns and sees one of the runners taking off for third. The boy could try a throw to the third baseman, but he, too, is looking for that special clover. The boy gives chase, catches up, lunges, and tags the runner out just steps from third.

"THREE OUTS! WE WIN! WE WIN!"

The game ball is presented to the boy. Baseball dreams sometimes come true. The boy is my son.

Michael Paskoff works for the federal government, is a sometimes free-lance writer and lives with his wife and two sons in Towson.

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