A Little League baseball game played in Bountiful recently made national headlines. It reminded all of us adults who at one time played youth sports that'after decades of what might have been improvement'organized athletics for kids can still be a cruel pastime ruled by adults who lack moral compasses.
At the end of a close “championship” game in early August between 9- and 10-year-olds, the coach for one team elected to intentionally walk a good hitter on the other team in order to face a much weaker hitter on deck.
But the kid on deck wasn’t just a “weak hitter.” He was a 9-year-old who had gone through a battle with cancer. He was a kid who was scrawnier than everyone else his age because of all of the agonizing treatments he had been through. He was a kid who, for crying out loud, still had a shunt in his head. The opposing coach, if lacking in human decency, was certainly playing the percentages right.
There is no happy ending here. The boy ended up striking out, ending the game and shedding tears'and Utah’s reputation for oddball antics in the news remained as strong as ever. Nothing says “life elevated” quite like striking out a kid with a shunt in his head.
Although many in the media expressed shock, it should comes as no surprise in a country of parents who assault referees that winning would come above all else in a youth athletic event. Organized youth sports are created and run by adults to help meet some very “adult” needs'namely, living vicariously through the success of your kids.
If it wasn’t really the shock value of this story that drew so much attention, perhaps it was something that runs deeper. Maybe the reason so many people paid attention to this story was that there are a lot of us'myself included'who can identify with that kid who struck out to end the game. And no, I’m not talking about cancer survivors. That young boy in Bountiful is already an incredible winner just by being on the field.
Instead, I’m talking about all of us former Little Leaguers who played right field for three innings and got one at-bat per game'or the equivalent minimal level of participation on a team in any other youth sport'because the rules said they had to play us that much. I’m talking about all of my spiritual brothers and sisters who struck out to end the game more than once, or even struck out twice in an inning while everyone else on the team hit the ball (OK, on that last one, I’m just talking about myself). I’m talking about those of us who stood out in right field watching bees crawling on dandelions only to hear everyone screaming our name before we looked up just in time to see the ball sailing over our heads.
Most of us weren’t that kid who was such a great hitter that they intentionally walked him. Instead, the kid we can relate to is the one waiting on deck, praying, “Please God, don’t let me get up to bat.?
That’s why, when a story like the one about the Bountiful game comes along, we prick up our ears. Our minds drift back to innocent childhood days 10, 20 or 35 years ago when we took part in the national pastime while standing in the outfield in green grass under sunny blue skies, and we could hear the sounds of people calling out to us, “Throw the damned ball before everybody scores!?
So when we'the right field-playing weak hitters of America'hear about another kid suffering at the hands of the “adults” who run Little League, we wince in remembrance and say, “Welcome to the club, kid.” We want to tell the latest generation of our club that better days are ahead. It’s just that those days probably won’t be spent on a baseball diamond.
Geoff Griffin overcame his Little League career to go on to make his high school basketball team. In front of much larger crowds, he set a school record for the most free throws missed in a row.