Before we begin, I wanted to express my sincere appreciation to everyone who enjoyed the first installment of "The LL Chronicles". Now that my six-year-old son Jalen has reversed his early-season struggles at the plate, he's asked more than once over the past few days: "Are you going to write about me on your blog, again?"
So, yeah…I hope y'all don't mind. Jalen's team had back-to-back games this past weekend and currently sits atop our district's Fall Ball standings with a 6-1 record.
(1) Lil' Josh Gibson -- Jalen has long maintained an excited curiosity about catching. He loves squatting behind the imaginary home plate in our living room – just in front of the center of our love seat – and flashing a complex combination of signs with every finger on his hand. He gets a kick out of wearing the catcher's gear whether it's during a game, under my watchful eye, or in a sporting goods store, behind my back.
Earlier this season, it was Jalen's turn to catch the pitching machine for an inning. It was a bloodbath. Fastballs bounced off every part of his body except his glove. Here is an amazingly accurate reenactment of the beating he endured. J looked at me after the inning and declared, "I don't wanna play catcher, anymore." He caught twice more this past weekend and each time turned the backstop into a lopsided dodgeball contest.
(2) The Rivalry -- Our team was undefeated (4-0) as the kids took the field against the Blue Team on Saturday, October 2. We'd beaten this squad twice before, but something felt off as we went through warm-ups. There was no organized practice in the week leading up to the game – save for an optional session at a local batting cage that immediately devolved into several spirited periods of unsanctioned aluminum bat field hockey and/or lightsaber wars.
We played our sloppiest and most unwatchable ballgame of the season in a 19-10 loss. Jalen – fresh off his 2 for 3 performance in the previous game – went 0 for 3 with three strikeouts, as he fell right back into all his bad habits at the plate and obnoxiously "called his shot" before his last at-bat, gesturing towards the centerfield fence. Meanwhile, I noticed that the Blue Team's coaches were (too?) enthusiastically waving runners home from third base when up by a dozen runs at one point. Of course, I'm new to Little League's "unwritten rules" and since none of our coaches complained…
(3) Bad Dad -- The day after our first loss of the season, I took Jalen back to the baseball diamond in an attempt to "fix" his hitting. In almost six-and-a-half years of occasionally spotty parenting, this would go down as one of my more embarrassing episodes. It was an uncommonly muggy Sunday morning and the entire field was weighted down by a blanket of immovable moisture. Compounding the problem, I was using a new bucket of balls for batting practice that were still shiny and slick from the factory. The humid conditions turned them into slippery, uncontrollable projectiles.
I accidentally beaned Jalen so many times that he began bailing out on the few pitches I could get over the plate. He hung in there until the last hit-by-pitch when I finally noticed the tears welling up in eyes that he'd probably been fighting like hell to hold back the entire time. We both decided to call it a day.
(4) Mother Knows Best -- Thankfully, Mrs. Bootleg is always available to fix my infrequent f**k-ups as a father. A few days after I'd gone all Darth Vader on Jalen, the wife had him back at his weekly baseball skills session and was able to articulate to the instructors precisely what he needed to work on. Our next game was Saturday, October 9 and Jalen went 2 for 2 – including his first extra-base hit, an opposite field double – in a 10-1 win.
(5) The Squeeze Play -- Jalen spent the first inning of Saturday's win playing catcher. The leadoff hitter for our opponents was a cute little ponytailed lass named Danica. As I stood in the far end of the fenced-off dugout – closest to home plate – I could hear some of the famously casual hitter-catcher chatter that's been a part of the grand old game for generations. Jalen to Danica: "Hey…what's your name?"; Jalen to Danica, again: "Haven't I seen you before?" and Jalen to Danica, one more time: "NICE swing!" I'm pretty sure Jalen is the first hitter in baseball history – at any level – to go 2 for 2 and 0 for 3 in the same game.
(6) Squeeze Play, the Sequel -- One of our players has an older, teenage sister. Before games, we'll take the team out along the left field line for warm-ups and yesterday this young woman was leaning against the outfield fence, fiddling with her cell phone. She was giving off the kind of uninterested indifference that's worthy of the redundancy. While waiting his turn for soft-toss, Jalen walked right up to her, introduced himself and said, "I play baseball. I had two hits yesterday." She politely chatted with him for a few minutes, as…wait. Did Jalen just drop a pick-up line that worked? GAH!
(7) Re-Gifting the Beatdown -- Yesterday's game was against the Blue Team, as our boys set out to avenge their only loss of the season. We dominated on offense during a 20-11 victory that included a loud and caustic argument between…whoops, that's the next paragraph. Jalen had the best day of his Little League career, going 4 for 4 with an RBI.
(8) The Rivalry II -- As stated earlier, I'm not intimately familiar with Little League's meticulous rule book. In particular, on base hits that reach the outfield, there's a restriction at this level that prohibits a baserunner from advancing to the next base if he hasn't reached the previous base before the ball is thrown back to the infield. (For example, assume there's no one on base. If a batter gets a hit to right field, he can only advance to second base on the play, if the right fielder hasn't thrown the ball back to the infield before the batter touches first base.)
During yesterday's game, the Blue Team had runners on first and second. The batter knocked a solid hit to centerfield. The centerfielder quickly got the ball back to the infield, but the baserunners had already advanced and made wide turns around second and third base, respectively. Our head coach screamed that the runners couldn't advance beyond second and third base. He then directed our shortstop to tag out the runner who'd gone too far around the bag at second and hadn't yet returned.
I assumed the act of "sending baserunners back" was the loose equivalent of a "dead ball", where play stops and ostensibly "resets" for the next hitter. The Blue Team's head coach was livid when the out at second base was upheld, which got our head coach fired up, for some reason.
Before I knew it, the coaches were arguing the rule book with each other from opposing dugouts. Fortunately, the kids seemed completely oblivious to the scene. For what it's worth, I thought the other team's coach was right. The play is either live (and the runners advance at their own risk) or its not (and the runners are forced to return to the previous base) – it can't be both.
If only there was a way for the coaches to appropriately settle their differences. But, we'd need a steel cage, some pyro and a contrived play-on-words for Fall Ball.