Why, yes, I was impatiently sitting on that title for the past six weeks!
The longest day of the Little League season came and went on Saturday. It began well before 8:00 AM with the annual Little League Opening Day ceremonies and ended with our late-afternoon game against the Rangers. In between, there were old friends, new teammates, a heated inter-gender confrontation involving our "team mom" and a LOT of blood.
7:15 AM -- I expressed my displeasure with the start time of our league's Opening Day ceremonies through Twitter. 350+ kids and their coffee-deprived parents shoehorned onto a single field just after the rooster awakens. Didn't President Lincoln abolish this nonsense with the Emancipation Proclamation? Has word of our freedom not reached California?
7:45 AM -- My seven-year-old son Jalen has a thing about uniform numbers. For the past few years, he's wanted to wear a number on the back of his jersey that matches his age at the time. Before each season starts, Jalen has excitedly hoped to wear five or six or seven while Mrs. Bootleg and I attempt to tamp down his expectations ("You can't pick and choose the number you'll wear in Little League, Jalen. You'll get what you get.") However, my son's sense of numeric entitlement has been shaped by sheer coincidence. During his 2009 Fall League, Jalen was assigned #5. During his 2010 Fall League, he wore #6. Yesterday, his manager reached into a clear plastic bag and pulled out a dark blue Red Sox jersey with "CAMERON #7" on the back. The look on J's face was worth the early wake-up call. (I'm not rescinding my Emancipation Proclamation joke, though.)
8:15 AM -- Thankfully, this year's featured speaker -- a former local sportscaster who was literally the fill-in to the fill-ins on San Diego Padres telecasts -- kept things short, sweet and succinct. Last year, it took sports-talk radio host Lee "Hacksaw" Hamilton almost 45 minutes to explain how the values and lessons of Little League Baseball led to a career making 45-second drive-time conversation with "Ed in El Cajon" about the concerns within the San Diego Chargers' secondary.
8:30 AM -- The ceremonies were just wrapping up when the Red Sox's "team mom" (the liaison between the league and the team, organizer of essential snack schedules and the de facto head cheerleader) approached me. She looked especially agitated as she began:
Team Mom: "You won't BELIEVE what just happened! The manager of the Yankees brought all of his kids over, looked right at our team and said, 'We hate the Red Sox!' Can you believe that?"
Team Mom: "What kind of message does that send the kids?! I...I was just so stunned when he said it! I'm going to tell him off, but I can't find him. Do you see him? He's really tall with all white hair."
Me: [Looking right at him from about 50 yards away.] "Uh, no, can't see him. It'll be hard to find him in this crowd."
Team Mom: "If I see him, I might need you to back me up. I don't think he's going to be afraid of me."
Thankfully, the Red Sox's manager diffused the obvious misunderstanding before his wife could employ me as her hired, emaciated muscle.
2:15 PM -- The Red Sox arrived at the field for warm-ups 45 minutes before the start of the game. Once again, I'm an assistant coach this season and -- for now -- tasked with taking the kids through a simple throwing drill: half the team stands along the right field line while the other half stands a short distance away, gradually moving farther back as the throws get longer and longer. I notice that Jalen has the best arm on the team and -- I say this with equal parts pride and surprise -- it's not even close.
2:25 PM -- We're wrapping up the throwing drill and preparing to take infield when another coach and I simultaneously notice Jalen's throwing partner is on his knees with his bare hand pressed to his mouth. We race over and the second coach gently asks if he took a ball off the face. The little guy nodded slowly. The second coach asks if he can take a look and when the kid moves his hand away; a steady crimson stream runs from his upper lip over his bottom lip and chin before pooling onto the green grass below. Looking back, my squeamish reaction ("Oh...OH! Oh, my God! OH! Oh, my God!") probably did little to settle down the situation. Amazingly, after 30 minutes with an ice pack, the kid ended up playing the entire game -- most of it with a ping pong ball-sized welt just under his nose. I'm just sayin', Jay Cutler.
3:00 PM -- There were lots of familiar faces in the opposing Rangers dugout. Jalen played under the manager and two of the assistant coaches last fall and many of their players were previously Jalen's teammates. This was a good hitting, experienced lineup that emphasized fundamentals and knew how to win. (And, I don't dust off those clichéd Jon Heyman baseball compliments for just any team.) When I asked their manager how his team looked, he replied: "We're gonna scare some kids this year." It was my job to keep our callow group of kids from getting spooked, I suppose.
5:00 PM -- Red Sox lose, 16-12. We flirted with the mercy rule, before a furious comeback in the middle innings fell short at the end. Jalen had a fantastic day at the plate going 3 for 4 with two RBI and an entertaining outing in the field as he made an error in all three outfield positions.
Ironically, the best player on the field -- an adult-sized eight-year-old on the other team who was crushing the ball in the Fall League -- struck out five times. In the middle of his last at-bat, he burst into tears as he gasped sobs of frustration in and out. Without any prompting, many of our kids in the field -- playing defense against him -- began shouting encouraging words towards home plate, followed closely behind by us adults on the coaching staff.
The longest day of the Little League season?
I gotta say it was a good day.