The right things at the right time

The weather was warm and sunny on Saturday and Sunday -  one obvious bright spot of this year’s Mountville 12U baseball tournament. There were other bright spots too. Okay – maybe not as many as we would have hoped for the Indians, but they were there all the same.

Admittedly, the Indians didn’t have one of their best tournaments ever. But hey, we did see some good Indian hits, defensive plays, and pitching. Right things were done at the right times – just not enough of them in the same game. This will come. 

Athletes like basketball great Kareem Adul-Jabbar’s know the importance of doing the right things at the right times. Adul-Jabbar’s career success may have looked like it came easily, from natural talent alone. But he recognized that his athletic ability was not enough. To be the best he could be, he had to be mentally focused too. “I try to do the right things at the right times,” he said. They may just be little things, but usually they make the difference between winning and losing.”

So give the Indians the high-fives and kudos they deserve for everything done well this past weekend. Take a look at the stars on their hats too. They’re good reminders of the many things the players have done well so far.

Then take heart! With encouragement, and the good coaching they get as Indians (not that I’m the least bit biased or anything), many more good things will happen this season. As the players get more game experience and learn to focus on the little things that make a difference – on doing more of the right things at the right times – they’ll gain confidence. And that, combined with the talent this team has, is a winning combination!

Long story, short

In many ways, this baseball season has been, shall we say – unique. Mid-March snow piles necessitating indoor, single-day player evaluations; countless heavy spring rainfalls and days of sub-normal temperatures resulting in an unusual number of practice cancellations and game postponements; a roster bearing not even one returning player’s name; an umpire passing out at the plate; the new tedious (but important), league-mandated recording and limiting of pitches. The all too familiar rhythm of the Indians’ baseball season has been punctuated with so many oddities that it reads like a story composed of incomplete sentences.

I wonder if the players and their families feel that same herky-jerkiness, or if to them it feels like we’re simply flipping the pages of an “interesting” season’s story.

Either way, hold onto your black and gold baseball caps, because this story is about to pick up some serious steam! In the span of a just few short weeks, the Indians are scheduled to play twelve league games – twice as many as they’ve played so far this season – thanks to the weather.

So just like a good book that you can’t put down once you really get into the heart of it, the rest of the season will suddenly fly by and then be over before you know it. Here’s hoping for an ending that leaves us all smiling because we decided to be part of this story in the first place.

More than a game

As you might imagine, I’ve been attending Mountville Indians baseball games for quite some time – long enough to even know what a suicide squeeze is; which is quite an accomplishment since I spend almost as much time people-watching at games as I do paying attention to what’s happening on the field.

At last night’s game I was in full people-watching mode, and I couldn’t help but notice lots of familiar faces among the spectators – former players, parents of former players, and yes, even grandparents of former players.

Now, I know Indians baseball games can sometimes be pretty exciting, but surely, I thought, these people must have more important things to do on a warm, spring evening. What brings them here? The kid who played two years ago, and his mom and sister; a grandpa whose grandson was on the team at least three years ago; the former player who is now a high school junior and has come back this year to help coach the Indians (his mom and little sister were there too). Then at the end of the game, the umpire strode toward me and tilted his mask up to say hello – revealing a now-adult’s face that had once been that of 12-year old Mountville Indian. There they all were, along with others just like them, reconnecting with a time and to experiences in their lives that both Bob and I hope will always hold a special place in their hearts.

You know it’s spring when…

Despite the incredible amount of snow that fell on Lancaster County this year (including the two or so inches that we got today!), spring will not be denied. She will come, at least as a date on the calendar, if not with sun-filled skies, crocus blooms, and robin songs. And I know that she’s surely here when Bob is later coming home in the evenings, and later staying up at night – doing “baseball things.”

It’s a time of year Bob and I both love. The thrill of meeting a fresh crop of kids and parents; of grooming a new team – eager, maybe a little apprehensive, always excited. Oh, the things they will learn; the places they will go. As I update the tournament schedule on the website, I’m already looking forward to the season with great anticipation. Hello spring. Let the games begin!

Star gazing

cap with stars

Each year as the season progresses, I enjoy observing glimmering configurations of small gold stars evolve into personalized and unique works of art on the Indians’ caps. Player’s jersey numbers are often the first recognizable figures to emerge. And by the time the annual team picnic rolls around at the end of the season, small constellations – arbitrary formations of stars perceived as figures or designs; a gathering of brilliant things, according to Wikipedia – miraculously have burst to life within twelve individual baseball cap galaxies. (Among the components that make up galaxies are stars, dust, and some mysterious element called “dark matter,” so I like this analogy.)

Back in the days when the season was only a twenty-something game commitment, one of my jobs as coach’s wife was to embed the stars into the players’ caps after each game. Like clockwork, players lined up to request their customized “star placements.” And I’d insert star prongs into caps, bending prong after prong after prong backwards on the inside of the caps until my fingers nearly bled.  Later, I got smart and used a thimble. I decided it was time to resign my “chief star-inserter” position when the seasons grew to sometimes upwards of fifty games. I now happily have been replaced by a much more efficient system – players’ parents! (Thank you to all of you for sacrificing your fingers and sparing mine! May I suggest thimbles?)

I’m a big fan of the stars. I like what they represent. I like the designs the kids make with them. It’s fun to watch. But I especially enjoy watching the entwined universes of each player’s skills, character, and baseball cap galaxy simultaneously grow. It’ a beautiful thing!

A little more cowbell, please

cow bell

For 51 weeks of the year it sits silent, idle in an honorary spot on a shelf with other Mountville Indians memorabilia. The Norwegian-made cowbell’s distinctive clang has only rung out one glorious week of each of the past 12 years. And even then, its heavy iron casing coated with brass recycled from spent Norwegian military practice range ammunition cartridges, only makes contact with the bell’s hefty metal clapper under certain circumstances.

The official U.S. Olympic ski team bell was a prize I won for getting the most answers correct on a trivia quiz of some sort at a seminar. Though handcrafted, the cowbell is probably pretty ordinary by Norwegian cowbell standards, but I’ve always admired how it looks, how it sounds and how it feels tucked snuggly in the palm of my hand. When I won it, I couldn’t imagine what on earth I would do with such a thing? Shove it in a closet, re-gift it, let the grandkids drive us crazy with it?

I can’t recall for sure, but I think the bell may have come into my possession around the same time the Indians were making their inaugural trek to Cooperstown. It must have been serendipity because the cowbell almost immediately found its purpose in Cooperstown and has been fulfilling that purpose ever since.

The bell is among the first items I check off my Cooperstown packing list each year. And unless silenced by edict of a “grumpire,” it rings out every time an Indian strikes out a batter, makes an amazing diving catch, steals home, turns a double play; or when the team exits the field – win or lose (but longer and harder for a win), and as an Indian rounds the bases on a homerun. But only in Cooperstown.

Over the years, some have asked if I take the cowbell elsewhere; to Hershey hockey games perhaps? Nope. The New Era Tournament? Ditto. I’ve been tempted. But then I’m reminded that even simple things take on great value when they’re intentionally held back, reserved for a special time or place. I want this ordinary bell to be something special – to only ring out during one extraordinary week of the year, in one extraordinary place, for one extraordinary bunch of kids as they accomplish many extraordinary feats. So, that’s why 358 days of the year the bell sits silently on the shelf waiting for its next defining moment.

The big dance

If you’re a fan of local baseball and are from Lancaster County (PA) or have lived in Pennsylvania Dutch Country for very long, you probably understand the allure of the New Era Tournament. Lights (games under the lights). Cameras (local newspaper coverage). Action (intense competition). For Lancaster County Youth Baseball League section-one players 11 years old and up – this is The Big Dance!

And although the format has changed a little this year, the anticipation, excitement and memories surrounding this prestigious county baseball championship tourney remain as perennial as the Mountville VFW’s grass infield.

Bob has led the Indians to seven of their eight New Era Tournament championships – including a three-peat – and three runner-up finishes. And not surprising to anyone who knows him well, he has a remarkable memory of each game – play-by-play! My recall is somewhat less remarkable. I remember a smattering of moments from a handful of games that blend together to make one big, happy New Era memory. Others have memories of the New Era too. Just this weekend, Bob and I bumped into two 1950s New Era alums who freely recounted their own tournament memories with all the wide-eyed enthusiasm the 11- and 12-year-old Indians who will take the field tonight to play in the New Era must be feeling.

So, no matter the outcome of tonight’s game and if history holds true, this is sure to be a night these kids will always remember too!

Believing in the “next time

When I hear “I got it! I got it!” at a youth baseball game, I almost instinctively hold my breath – and sometimes I even close my eyes. There’s just something about a wide-eyed kid running full throttle, yelling at the top of his or her lungs, face flush to the sky, glove wide open that makes me, well – a little uneasy. I desperately want to hear “thwack … yeah!” not “thunk … aw!” a few seconds after, “I got it! I got it!” And plenty of times, to my delight, I do.

I love those times. I love seeing the kid beaming ear-to-ear, the coaches whapping their hands together, teammates fist-pumping into the air. It’s those other times, the “thunk…aw” ones, I hate. What do you say, how do you act when someone puts it all out there, commits 110% in front of God and country,  and then – “thunk …aw?” 

The all too familiar “nice try” or “that’s alright” don’t seem as encouraging or confidence-instilling to me as saying something like, “next time!”

When a kid (or anyone) commits to something – especially so publicly, they need to know that others believe they really can do it; if not this time, the next, or the next, or maybe even the next. “Its’ alright” and “nice try” make me feel like it really didn’t matter if they succeeded in whatever they were attempting – as if no one really expected them to anyway.

“Next time!” Now that’s something that can help someone muster up the courage to try again and again, and better yet, can give them the boost of confidence they may need to believe that eventually they will indeed succeed.

Living the dream

Over the years, many people have told Bob how, as little boys, their kids “dreamed” of one day becoming a Mountville Indian. They looked forward to it like Christmas; worked hard at improving their skills, sometimes at the expense of not playing other sports; hoping it would pay off and they’d make the team when they became old enough.

It’s humbling. It’s overwhelming. So much riding on being an Indian, so much disappointment if they don’t make the team. Such a responsibility.

In the past few weeks we’ve heard about two young men, now in their late teens or early twenties, describing to others in great detail their experiences as an Indian. Neither was on the team.

On one hand this makes me very sad for these young men. On the other hand, it reminds me what an awesome privilege it is to be a Mountville Indian. For one or two short summer seasons, each kid who wears an Indian uniform has a coveted opportunity. It is not an experience to be taken for granted – by the players, parents or coaches. Indian players are living the dream, one many others are only able to dream about having lived.

A win by many measures

Seth, Nick, Ryan, Cole, Kenny, Ryan, CJ, Christian, Joe-Joe, Ty, C-Dub, Adam – you inspire me!

Last week at the Sports at the Beach Tournament, you took on a Goliath – a much bigger and, by some measures, a stronger team. You were expected to lose – and by some measures (namely the score) you did. But the two numbers that fall on either side of a dash only tell part of any game’s story. In many very important ways, you won that game.

You won by showing us the importance of respecting, but not fearing an opponent. You won by believing in yourselves and demonstrating confidence in your abilities. You won by standing tall when, after much to the surprise (and joy) of spectators who gathered around to watch your grit and determination, you took your Goliath into extra innings! You won, even after the score said you lost by one run, by gaining the admiration and respect of your Goliath. By measures that last and matter most – you won.

Thank you for a truly exciting and inspiring game and for reminding us that winning can be measured in many ways, not solely by two numbers that fall on either side of a dash. The smiles on your faces as you proudly walked off the field that day told us that you probably already know this.