The Inside Rail

Hey, how’d it go on Whitney Day? 

Reinvestment Risk emerges as the talking horse who talks in the first…Everfast enjoys a class relief…Midnight Bisou gets beat…Vexatious, yeah, Vexatious…Tom’s d’Etat stumbles…Baffert, ho hum, his second Whitney…Sadler’s Joy gets taken down…Cross Border has two stakes in two weeks and everybody screams on Twitter…Echo Town upsets the Jerkens…Clement wins another one… Irad notches four…Jose wins two…nobody goes to Siro’s… 

As for other action. 

Aiden throws his slider and his changeup with precision. His long, languid delivery confuses the AAA Orioles, they strike out twice and manage a weak grounder to short. Twelve pitches. In Little League, this might be a first. The sky turns ominous over Franklin Park in Purcellville, Va. I spray hand sanitizer on nine, hot, dirty players as they funnel into the dugout and out to their bags, socially distanced down the right-field fence. 

Ashton singles for the AAA Cubs. Chase drives a hard grounder into left field, he’s been seeing the ball well lately. Ashton slides into third as his dad watches quietly from a chair and his little brother Noah, hits a ball in the air on the next field over. Miles singles, Ashton sprints home. Aiden singles. Oliver knocks a deep fly ball to center, his best hit of the season, an Oriole lunges and snares it on the fly, he could have been Paul Blair. Jackson W. nails another single, he swings the bat like Aaron Judge, as long as he’s smiling and not scowling at the plate (the extent of my baseball knowledge). Spencer, always a tough out, ekes out a walk. Jackson M., struggling to swing, watches two strikes and four balls. Runners barrage past home plate. 

The Cubs are up 5-0. No rule has saved more time and tears than the five-run rule. 

As a coach, you know it goes both ways. 

Aiden strikes out two, fields a grounder and throws to Jackson W. at first. Three up, three down in the top of the second. Ten pitches. Aiden is the Bill Shoemaker of Little League, you wouldn’t know if he struck out the side or got blindsided. I spray down clay-caked hands and elbow bump Aiden. 

James singles with a half swing to lead off the second. KC walks on four pitches. Ashton, the Rickey Henderson of the Cubs, singles again. Chase rips one up the middle, his dad/coach Rich smiles quietly, contently, from first as James and KC score. Miles snaps one to the pitcher who snares it for an out, at this stage, you’re rooting for the pitcher. We score another five. It’s 10-0 after two. 

Everybody pitches in this league, with this coach. Jackson W. struggles with his release point, his windup, balls and walks tick past, there is nowhere lonelier than the pitcher’s mound. The Orioles dance on the basepaths, confusion reigns. Oliver overthrows Jackson W. and a runner heads for home. I can see it in Miles’ eyes as he sprints from shortstop, grabs the rolling ball with his bare left hand and lasers it home, Oliver catches it on the fly and the runner goes from third run to first out in a split second. Coach Rich and Coach Carter look at me. I shake my head at my son’s whip-saw arm, something he does not get from his dad. The Orioles bang in four runs, but we spare the five-run rule. Jackson W. throws 38 pitches. He walks into the dugout like he’s been stacking hay bales into a barn loft. I spray the team down. 

In AAA, the pitchers run the gamut and the Orioles roll out a kid who throws like Jim Palmer in that magical 1975 season. He walks Spencer, strikes out Jackson M., walks James, strikes out KC, who spends most of the inning looking for his bat, and elicits a fielder’s choice on Ashton. It’s 10-4 but quickly feels closer. The sky darkens, spits of rain land in the dirt, we don’t hear the thunder. 

Jackson M. pitches the top of the fourth. His dad calls him Spider Monkey and the monkey is spidering all over the mound, pitches go high into the fence, deep into the dirt. He gets mad and throws one that whizzes past the batter, the next one whizzes past his father in the bleachers. That’s baseball. Runners sashay around the bases like the merry go round in Congress Park. We hold them to four, another victory. Jackson M. has learned the art of survival. 

Chase leads off with a single, he’s 3-for-3. Miles sends him home with a line drive to center, then falls into second base with a double. “Next practice, all we do is slide,” says Coach Rich. Aiden blasts another single, his eighth single in his last eight at bats (I keep score on a clipboard). Oliver singles. Jack W. singles. Spencer takes a fast ball in the back. Jackson M. walks. James strikes out and I say, “OK, boys, bring it in.” Jackson M., who was on first, stands next to me in the dugout when I look up and see the pitcher digging in at the rubber and all the kids still on the field. Coaches, parents scream, I pivot Jackson M. and send him back out to first, he gets there just in time. His dad starts to lament his son’s miscue. I take the blame. We laugh. A passed ball and another run, that’s five, “OK, boys, bring it in.” 

It’s 15-8, I think, when we hear the rumble. 

“Time,” the umpire bellows. “Clear the field.” 

Two coaches, after 23 runs, agree that we’ve had enough. “That’s game.” 

Parents fold their chairs, players stuff helmets, gloves and bats into oversized backpacks. We console a few kids who struggled and regale the ones who didn’t. I still don’t know who won the Whitney, the Bowling Green or the Caress. In a strange, disruptive time, moments with your son on a baseball field seem more important. Miles and I throw the gear in the car as the sky opens. 

“That was a great game.” 

I’m not sure who said it first.