One of those little league seasons when I was a kid , Bobby Devinney and I sat the entire time on the bench . By the end of the game , if our team was either winning or losing by a bunch , the coach would put Bobby and/or me out there in right field for the last inning . Often it happened to be the last half of the last inning . Big deal , eh ?
It was the old worst- case scenario of Little League coaching . The coach’s son was a pretty good athlete , but he was also a loud-mouthed arrogant jerk . He was the team star and his buddies played every inning of every game . Sort of a sports version of the spoils system .
Neither Bobby nor I were friends of the coach’s son , and we were quiet boys , not assertive people ; so we sat . Bobby was an odd kid who lived around the corner from me . He and I were never great friends . He threw a hammer at me , once . I forget what it was that had upset him . The hammer hit me on the leg . Sitting on that bench all season , though , we became buddies .
About mid -season I finally decided not to show up for our scheduled game only to sit out the whole time on the bench. Again. It was a big decision. But , by chance , the assistant coach called me up at home that afternoon , desperate , and begged me to get down to the park right away . He said that not enough players had showed up to play and he didn’t want to forfeit the game . I jumped on my bike and raced over to the park . Finally I’d play , I thought ! I pedaled like a madman so I’d have the opportunity , finally , to play .
It was false hope , though . By the time I got to the park , another boy had showed up . Yeah , they had their nine players and I sat on the bench again . Bobby wasn’t there . Maybe he’d made the same decision that I’d originally made that day but he’d stuck to it . Maybe he’d got the same desperate call that I’d got from the assistant coach , but Bobby had stuck to his decision . So , at any rate , I sat on that bench the entire game by myself , stewing , suppressing anger , regretting having made the effort , regretting not having stuck to my original decision . That conflicted little ten-year old me didn’t just get on that bike and go home . I’d tell him to do that had he asked . Sure I would .
So , eventually , the final game of the season came around . My team had placed , by this time , whereever it had placed for that season , so this last game really didn’t matter . Because of this , I guess , the coach put me out in left field at the start of the game .
I could throw in those days . I had a good arm . During warm-up practice that final game day I fired that baseball into home plate so fast that it stung the catcher’s hand . I could hear the slapping sound from deep left field when the baseball hit the catcher’s mitt . I watched him wince . I saw the coach notice , too , and look out toward me , puzzled .
When I had a turn at bat I was lucky . The pitcher tossed ’em in slow and straight . They weren’t any trouble to hit . I smacked out a double , and later on a triple . Maybe part of it was pent-up energy . Mostly , I think , it was an impromtu combo of some skill mixed with a good bit of luck . But , in any case , I hit well that day .
Toward the end of the game I walked over to the restroom . The coach met me on my way back. He put his arm around my shoulders . This was the jerk who hadn’t let me play all season , who had Bobby and me waste our time game after game sitting , waiting for a chance to play , pretending to be members of a little league team , but only playing final innings at most . He complimented me on my performance during the game . Told me that he didn’t know I could play like that . He said : ” Next year I’m going to put you in first string. ”
I looked at him and said : ” Why would I play on your team next year ? ” He put a puzzled look on his face . ” I spent the entire season sitting on the bench ,” I told him . And he took his arm slowly away from my shoulders .