The players are the real stars
There are some moments in time that we wish would just stay frozen. Those instances when all seems right in the world, and it feels as if we’ve finally figured out all of life’s little riddles.
I had that the other night in Roxana.
Sitting in the bleachers for the opening game of the Senior League Softball World Series with a hot dog in one hand and my handy-dandy reporter’s notebook in the other, I had the joy of watching Latin America and USA Central do battle on the diamond. The sun was shining, the pitching by both teams was sharp and the fans in the stands were enthusiastic and good-natured.
Yes, life was pretty good.
I was enjoying myself so much, in fact, that the sweltering heat, annoying bugs and hard bleachers were barely registering. It was summer, darn it, and I was enjoying a ballgame and a dog.
However, I also saw another side of it on Tuesday night, at the same venue, on the same field.
During the game between the USA Southwest team and the USA East team, sportsmanship took a backseat to gamesmanship for a fairly big chunk of the game. Tempers flared, things were said and the game had to halt for both sides to calm down.
Overly-competitive players searching for an edge? Pitchers throwing high-and-inside to batters? A hard slide into second?
Don’t get me wrong. This was not one of those horror stories you read about where opposing coaches charge on a field and start karate-kicking each other or start bonfires in the outfield. There was never really a point where you thought that someone was in danger, or you wanted the umps to call the game because the coaches were out of control. The umpires took control of the game, officials of the World Series were on hand and the game got back to being the game.
But for a good piece of time, the opposing coaches and their behavior became the story for the spectators and umpires. And that’s not a good thing.
As much as this event does for this community, it truly should be about the girls who are playing. They are tremendous players who are afforded the opportunity of playing in the World Series because they earned it by winning tournaments in their respective regions.
Southwest shortstop Caitlin Herbet made a throw in the bottom of the first inning of that Tuesday night game that caused me to just shake my head and make a small notation in my notebook — “shortstop has a cannon.”
These girls are good.
And it’s a fun event to just watch. The teams have tremendous spirit and pour everything they have onto the field. When they’re not playing, you can almost always find teams sitting in the bleachers and watching other teams play. Some of the players from the District III team from Laurel were sitting near me in the bleachers Tuesday night, and I found myself smiling and laughing at topics they were discussing, ranging from what pitch certain players liked to steal on to who did their hair.
They were young girls sitting with their teammates and friends, with some of their parents sitting not too far away, and having a great time.
And that’s what this whole thing is about.
Susan Lyons and I have had conversations about how many of these girls will be holding on to their memories of the World Series for decades — about how they will be opening dusty boxes in their attics to show their grandchildren photos of that hot summer when they played against some of the best players in the world in Roxana, and singling out photos of teammates who still held a special place in their hearts.
When I was in the Marine Corps, it was often said that all other jobs in the Corps were created to help the grunt in the field. Supply personnel, bombers, artillery, everything — they were there to support the infantry man trying to accomplish a mission.
That should be the focus of the World Series every year. The coaches are there to help make the experience all it can be for the girls, the spectators are there to witness the on-the-field exploits of the athletes and the families are there to help share the special moment with the players.
I would say, after several years of covering this event, that has largely been the case.
Well, except me. For me, it’s all about sitting there with a hot dog and watching great softball. And I thank the girls for that.