In sports, little plays by little players give us reason to smile

At Play

Summer

In Howard County

July 06, 2005|By Lowell E. Sunderland | Lowell E. Sunderland,SUN STAFF

IT WAS just one little play during an afternoon loaded with little plays, but it made us -- and a lot of others watching from foul territory -- smile. Somehow, you see, that one little play demonstrated that if you look around near home, forgetting war in Iraq and Afghanistan and that G-8 stuff in Scotland, all can be right with the world for a few moments, anyway.

Rockburn Branch Park. Mid-afternoon, July 4. Big game during the Cal Ripken State Championship tournament, hosted for the second straight year by the Elkridge Youth Organization. It was Severn A.C. against some other team whose female backers wore T-shirts bearing identifiers such as "Ned's Mom" or "Neal's Grandmom" on the back. Bases loaded. One out. It's hot.

A dad loads the pitching machine, and three blinking red lights later, POP, the ball flies plate-ward. A tiny right-handed batter -- about as tall as the pitching machine -- swings. Whap. Hard hit, the ball slices on a line toward second base. The runners take off and, one by one, each scores as dust puffs around home and parents and grandparents seated in foul territory along the first base line cheer.

Meanwhile, out of a flurry behind second base, on the outfield grass, someone throws the ball toward second, trapping the enthusiastic batter in no-man's land just as he turns for third base. One more short throw, and the batter is tagged out.

Immediately, several Severn dads in red T-shirts dash toward second to comfort one of their players, who is lying down, holding his bruised noggin, a bump that somehow happened as the play unfolded. His tears wiped away, he stayed in to play some more. Almost unnoticed, the tiny batter trudged toward his sideline, head down, tears staining his face, too, embarrassed at being called "out."

"Why are you crying?" his coach asked, smiling and offering a comforting pat as others also tried to cheer him up. "Don't cry. All the runners scored on your hit. You did a good job. A good job."

Nearby, unnoticed by most watching that game, is a shin-high memorial to Jack Merson, an Elkridge native who was an infielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1951 and 1952 and who played one more game for the Boston Red Sox.

Merson, if you believe in such things, had to be smiling after that little play, too. You know he understood. Just read the small plaque on his memorial: "His life was baseball -- a true inspiration."

Another reward

They're just a couple of lines from essays that high school seniors wrote, seeking small college scholarships, but they made us smile. Because each in its own way offered reassurance that, sometimes, all can be right with the world.

"Working with [Special Olympics] athletes over the past five yeas has made me realize the uniqueness of these very special individuals, who can accomplish great things with proper supervision. Being a part of Special Olympics has been so rewarding that I have decided to major in elementary/special education at Towson University."

That was by Kristy Andres of Mount Hebron High School, chosen by Howard County Special Olympics to receive a $1,000 grant.

Then: "The players [on a Special Olympics basketball team] have shown me that it doesn't matter what you have done or what you look like, it only matters what's in your heart. Every time I help out with the team, I feel that I get more out of it than I give."

That was from a $500 essay by Mallory McCammon, a volleyball player from Howard High who will be attending Pfeiffer University in North Carolina in the fall.

And then: "I thought I knew what perseverance was before I volunteered for Howard County Special Olympics. I had trained eight times a week, doing practices before and after school, as a member of the Columbia Clippers swim team. ... Special Olympics athletes taught me that the struggle is worth the effort."

That was by Seth Murphy, from River Hill High and another $500 grant winner. He will attend Wesleyan University.

Reading those essays, you just know, made the late Jackie Burk a one-time Special Olympics volunteer, smile, too. Her parents, Glenelg's Linda and Jack Burk, offer the scholarships in her memory.

Along the sidelines

SWIMMING: Doris Russell, 85, the Ellicott City swimmer, made us smile, too. She's the Senior Olympian we profiled on this page several weeks ago, and she added six more gold medals to her collection last month at the National Senior Games in Pittsburgh. She entered just those six events.

GOLF: Columbia resident Scott Stoughtenborough is still smiling, having won his third club championship at Fairway Hills Golf Course by defeating John Moller of Marriottsville, 3-up. We wrote last month about the two men, who have faced one another for the title for four straight years.

Call the writer about anything to do with amateur sports in Howard County at 410-332-6525 or send e-mail to lowell.sunderland@baltsun. com.

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