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 I now happily have been replaced by a much more efficient system – players’ parents!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!
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.
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!
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.