Tuesday, April 29, 2008

It's good to be the (Little League) kings

My son's Little League team won the district championship this weekend, and it was one of the most memorable, enjoyable, and special moments in my life.

Something tells me my son's first home run ball is going to be by his side for the next few years or so.

Forget about the Sox winning it all in 2004 for the first time since 1918.

Or the Pats bringing the first championship to the city of Boston since 1986 when they won their first Super Bowl in 2001.

And even the three titles I watched the Celtics win in the '80s growing up as a teen in Beantown can't compare to the feeling of watching your son's Little League team win a championship, especially when he was such a valuable part of taking home the trophy (well, actually they only gave out medals.)

Yes it was a wonderful weekend for the TBB family as our team, the GLLL Braves, won six straight games over three days to bring the District 12 Red Division title home to our league.

And it wasn't just the winning of the games but how we won them that was so exciting. If you'll allow me a few paragraphs of self-indulgence, I will relate what transpired on this magical weekend.

The first game was Friday night at 8:00, and we had no idea how we we're going to fare against teams we had never seen. We are the 2nd best team in our 5 team league right now, but this was our first trip outside the cozy confines of our home fields to play a foreign club.

And the first game was a tight one, scoreless for the first three innings before we pushed a run across in the fourth to take a slim 1-0 lead into the final two frames

Then in the 5th one of our kids, Cameron, slammed a guided missile shot over the short (distance-wise) but high outfield fence for our first outside-the-park homer run of the season, and that blast opened the floodgates and propelled us to a 14-1 win.

Saturday we had two games, and the first one was a rather uneventful 5-0 win. So we sat at 2-0 and had outscored our opponents 19-1, a good stat since the top 8 teams in the division advanced and lowest runs allowed counted as a tiebreaker for teams with identical records.

So far, so good.

Game 3 was when things started to get crazy.

After taking another 1-0 lead, the other team jumped out to an 8-1 advantage. These being emotional 10, 11 and 12-year olds who had already begun to get a feeling that they couldn't lose, let alone trail, in a game, the feelings of invincibility turned to insecurity and doubt in the blink of an eye.

Dirt kicking, finger-pointing and a cloud of doom and despair prevailed when they came back to the dugout, prompting me to go into my best Knute Rockne-esque speech in order to fire up the troops and remind them that the game was far from over.

Little did I know how right I'd be. Or that they would actually listen to what I was saying.

Soon enough we had clawed our way back in it, scoring a pair to bring the score to 8-3 and then striking for a five-spot the next inning, the capper being a 2-run homer by my son, Drew, that tried the game at 8 and sent the team- and the crowd and myself- into a frenzy.

It was his first "real" home run at any level, and talk about an opportune time for it.

The game got wilder from there as we took a 9-8 lead, they took a 10-9 lead with a monster blast from their big bopper, we tied it at 10, and then we exploded for 12 runs in the 6th to open up a 21-10 lead.

When the dust settled we won 21-16. We were 3-0 and had outscored our opponents 40-17, and had made it to the quarters as the 4 seed. We had to travel 45 minutes to the site for our first game at noon on Sunday, but it was well worth the trip, gas prices be damned.

In the single-elimination round we won our first game 7-5, another back-and-forth affair that the comeback kids pulled out with another big inning late. Now their confidence was growing and they finally had the feeling that it wasn't over till it was over, regardless of the score.

In game 2, the semi-final, we took on the top seed of the division and fell behind again, only to explode for another huge inning in which we batted around nearly three times and won going away, 21-8.

And it was on to the championship game.

Let me frame the drama of the title bout by stating a few facts of what we we're up against:

-the opponent was the home town team. They hadn't lost a game all year (16-0), wore exactly matching black & silver uniforms, had five huge kids who were heading to the next level and used $400 bats

-the coaches wore khaki shorts and Tommy Bahama shirts, eschewing the traditional, you know, team uniform shirt. Not cool enough.

-their fans lined the sideline all the way to the street, standing and hollering from the outset.

-the team, led by King Tommy Bahama, led an Under Armor-esque chant about this being their house before the first pitch.
And then they went and scored two runs in the 1st inning, including a solo shot by the first batter that appeared to be foul but was called fair by the clueless ump.

Home town call, indeed.

But this is where the Disney part of the story kicks in. Instead of getting down, our kids shrugged it off and ended up registering another 5-run inning to take a 5-2 lead, the first blow being a 2-run single by Drew that said we would not go quietly in this game, DeMarinis and country club outfits be damned.

After a tense couple of innings in which Drew pitched a scoreless pair thanks to some great defense, they scored a single run to slice the lead to 5-3, setting up the final inning dramatic theatrics.

Needing three outs for the championship our team fell apart like a run down Chevy. Two missed fly balls set up a 2-on, 1-out situation, and then one of their big guns launched a blast over the fence for a 3-run homer that gave them a 6-5 lead that seemingly crushed the spirits of our kids, who had fought so long and hard to get to that point, only to see it all go up in smoke in the blink of an eye.

Or so it seemed.

Perhaps we had one more rally left in us.

Maybe we could beat the odds, as well as this cocksure bunch of country clubbers and prima donna sluggers.

Miraculously, we did.

A leadoff double and then a huge 2-out, 2-strike hit by our own Lil Papi, Chad, tied the game at 6 in the bottom of the 6th, and that sent the championship game into a Texas tiebreaker, or sudden death, finale.

After one scoreless frame, we got another chance and capitalized, as the bottom of our lineup came through again when Paul singled in the winning run that won the title, and suddenly the home town team looked dazed and confused, wondering how this 'little team that could' had just come into their house and stole their title.

And that wrapped up the greatest weekend of my sporting life. It's a weekend I, nor the kids, parents and other coaches, will ever forget, one that makes you realize that big time sports pales in comparison to seeing young kids laugh and cry, live and die by the goings on at a Little League ballfield.

It is sports at it's purest, and its finest, and I was just glad to be a part of something as special as this. Congrats to Ryan, Tanner, Andy, Cameron, Angel, Brandon, Dylan N., Chad, Drew, Paul, Dylan A. and Luis, the 2008 GLLL Majors Braves, and thanks for the memories.