Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Pranking the spaz

If you missed the story, a minor hubbub has developed over a player on the Staten Island team in the Little League World Series dropping a very audible f-bomb during their game against Lemont, Ill. The video is no longer on YouTube, but reports also claim that the manager smacked the kid, which could be nothing or it could be really horrible. But I'll focus on the "fucking".

Little League sports are an American institution, a rite of passage that just about every boy (and some girls) go through. Sure there are overbearing parents and overzealous coaches, but for the most part they're just a bunch of kids, in snappy uniforms, playing a game and pretending to be big leaguers. And the Little League World Series has absolutely nothing to do with any of this.

When you, or at least when I, signed up to play baseball they set a try-out for a certain day at a certain time. They put all the kids in a big line and one by one put them through basic drills - throwing, catching, hitting. They grade all the kids on how well they did, and then assign them all to teams. And of course every kid, whether they're a 6'8" behemoth who looks to be about 38 years old or a 4'1" geek with Chris Sabo athletic goggles, has to be assigned to a team. So the teams are created, in general, to have similar talent levels. So naturally, when you have teams formed of guys with disparate talent, cliques form almost immediately. The home run hitters sit on one of the bench, laughing and joking and waiting for their turn - this is Group A. Players who are good but not great form another group, Group B. This is usually the group who are popular with the ladies - good enough to be an asset, but not so good that it's clear that they take it way too seriously. Next was my group - guys who aren't really so great, but who can do just enough things not to embarrass themselves. Group C. My fondest memories of Little League involve teams for which I wore the tools of ignorance - in hindsight, I was most likely given the job not because the coach thought I was a great backstop, but because I was the only guy who willingly submitted to doing it. Wearing that mask on a hot day is miserable; you sweat all over the padding, and eventually the dirt from the home plate area starts to get in there, making a gritty and unpleasant paste around your chin. But even with all that I liked it, because I at least had my niche that I fit into.

The final group is the spaz, Group D. If he's lucky there's more than one, so at least he has someone to commiserate with. But usually, he's alone. He sits at the end of the bench, he likely picks his nose, and when he actually does get into a game he chokes up on the bat to about the halfway point. The kid is an outcast, probably forced to play Little League because of a parent who wants him to get out and make some friends.

One of the clearest memories I have of Little League involves the spaz. It was in Single-A, the second-lowest level in the Fairfax County Little League program (you go there after you graduate tee-ball). It was towards the end of a game, and one of the kids in Group C who I was only casually friends with (because he was fairly clearly a screw-up, even at age 7. We'll call this kid Eric. Incidentally, I was a Group B player in Single-A, but after that the wheels came off and I settled firmly into Group C) managed to get hold of the spaz's (who we'll call Ben) hat, I think while he was batting. Ben was in my elementary school and just mercilessly picked on. Eric had a pen for some reason and he proceeded to write "Fuck" on the brim of the hat. Not "fuckface" or "fucking asshole" or "I fuck your mom". Just "fuck". At 7, that's badassed enough to count as an insult. Needless to say, when Ben came back he saw the hat, which Eric and I had a good laugh at. Ben, being an outcast, did the only thing a sensible kid in his position would do - he squealed to his mom. She was a weird old broad too (you could see where Ben got it from) and she gave Eric and I a serious tongue-lashing. Of course, the first thing I did was rat out Eric and tell her I had nothing to do with it, but no matter. I probably deserved it - it was a shitty thing to do, and I could have at least tried to stop him.

Cursing, especially writing curse words down (for posterity, so generations to come will know that 2+2 = shit), is one of the first "adult" things you can do. You're too young for sex or mind-altering substances when you learn your first good curse words, and throwing them around is rebellious and cool. You start tossing them around with impunity when there are no adults around, just because you can. And when you're playing Little League, you're in the perfect place with the perfect group of people to use them. When the coach is off somewhere else, of course.

But that's real Little League, where you're stuck with the spaz and the greatest thrill most of the players have is the pizza party. The Little League World Series is not real Little League. It's a bunch of All-Star teams, kids who can hit, and who can field. Most of the stories by news outlets focus on the childlike joy of the kids involved, how it's "still a game" to them, but make no mistake, these are the Group A kids, the ones who would never think about writing fuck on the spaz's hat because THEY DON'T EVEN KNOW THE SPAZ EXISTS. To them, he's just a vaguely person-shaped thing that exists in his peripheral vision when he comes back to the dugout to high-fives after hitting a home run. Real Little League has the spaz, and kids who write curse words on his hat, and laugh because someone just let out a really loud fart. The Little League World Series has kids who curse because they actually care about the outcome of the game. I think I'd have smacked the kid too, for being an ultracompetitive douchebag. But then I'd run like hell, because Group A kids could probably still kick my ass.


Blogger Steve said...

Little League baseball is most certainly full of memories for anyone who played it. For the frat boys/meat heads in the making they have the memories of how they were "always the best one on their team".

For the rest they have memories like the time they stopped in-between base paths in order to tie their shoe whilst a fellow team member was running behind them(I'm pretty sure Ricky Henderson did that once too).

But for me Little Leage baseball memories can be pretty much summed up in one thing

Wed Aug 23, 12:06:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Whisk E. Bear said...

I had the hitting ability of a Type A and the mentality of a Type C (along with a Type C's defensive ability, surely why coach hid me at catcher). Our coach printed out statistics for us one year, and my average was at .650. But I was also once kicked in the chest by one of the Type A kids, a real asshole who was a year older than everyone else and probably hit .700. That contributed to my first public swear. I called him, appropriately, an asshole.

Three innings later, I convinced myself that mom didn't hear. I was 8.

That, and I twisted my ankle after crossing home plate following my only career home run.

Wed Aug 23, 12:04:00 PM EDT  

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