“Com’on Larry, give it a ride! Way to go Teddy! That’s the way Bru! That’s one for you Buckie!” This is some of the common chatter you might have heard at any Mountville Indians game this year. Yet oddly enough, no one on the team has any of these names. There’s no Snoop, Ernie, JoJo, Shep, C-Dub or MoFat either. So, who are these kids with the unusual names, and why do people think they’re Mountville Indians?
Because that’s how real teams are. It’s a lot like Cheers. Everyone knows your name – or collectively christens you with a term of endearment that somehow ends up sticking. And the longer they know you, the more likely they are to call you by your nickname instead of your given name. And that’s okay with you. It makes the name that much more special because you will only ever be “Larry,” “Teddy,” or whatever to those friends with whom you have shared a special set of experiences.
The capstone competitive experience for Indians teams for the past twelve years has been playing the week-long tournament at the Cooperstown (NY) Dreams Park. Teams from all over the U.S. and Canada, 104 teams in all, converge on the scenic Leatherstocking area to compete in this national tournament. Many are all-star teams drawing from large geographic areas; some are store-bought with rosters of recruited players and paid coaches; only a few, like the Mountville Indians, are true town teams – teams where everyone knows your name – real or invented- and where shared experiences extend far beyond the ball field into day-to-day lives. And the difference this makes, makes all the difference in the world.
One year at Cooperstown, I remember hearing a coach of one of the store-bought teams asking a player what he wanted to be called. The strapping 12-year old, who looked more like 14 or 15, yelled his name back to the coach as he strode his wiry, fresh-off-the-airplane legs across the infield to warm up with teammates he was meeting for the first time. The coach hurriedly jotted the name on the line-up; perhaps uncertain he could commit it to memory along with all the other names of players he also barely knew.
As I watched that scene unfold, I thought about the difference between this coach and Bob when a player comes up to bat. The difference between having to read a line-up and resumé to know a kid’s name and skill set, and actually “knowing” a kid; between a player’s teammates calling out a jersey number to cheer him on or corporately and spontaneously shouting out a moniker that falls off their tongues as easily as if it were their own. It’s the difference between Logan and Larry; Ryan and Ernie; Kenny and Snoop. It’s that difference that makes a team a real team. And that’s the chasm that separates what so many other kids who compete at the Dreams Park experience and the richness of the memories Mountville Indians take home with them each year.