And it’s over. Miles’ Little League career has come to a close. And what a close.
First playoff game, Tigers vs. Orioles, Wednesday night. Round Hill Center Field #1. We had met the Orioles, the best team in the league, twice this season. Both games were called. The slaughter rule. Down 12 after three innings, 10 after four…something like that. It didn’t matter, the games went fast, our team slumping off in disgust, dismay. One game, our last batter, Logan, didn’t even get to bat. Three up, three down, three up, three down, three up, three down, like tins cans in a shooting gallery. It was over before parents unfolded their chairs.
Last night, we met the Orioles in the first game of the playoffs. Worst team plays the best team.
Here we go.
Scoreless after one. Scoreless after two. We score a run in the top of the third, manufacturing an implausible run with baserunning miscues and sloppy fielding to match. They blow it open in the bottom of the third, four singles in a row, an errant throw down the third base line, another miscue, a blunder, well, it was fun while it lasted, 4-1 after three.
Parker flies out to lead off the fourth. His father, Coach Dane, offers consolation, "Good hit, he just caught it, that's all." Two strikeouts follow. As Yogi Berra says, “It’s getting late early out here.”
Our best pitcher, Colby, goes three solid innings. Coach Chris tells Miles to go to the mound. Miles doesn’t blink, doesn’t hesitate, picks up the ball and dials in. He strikes out the first batter, the bottom of their lineup. The leadoff hitter grounds out. Our old friend, Oliver, grounds out with a smile on his face, he’s always smiling. A perfect inning.
“I need hits,” Coach Chris says.
Hammer walks. Ryan swings hard, fouls off a couple but ultimately strkes out. Cole singles. Ace walks. Colby singles, we claw it back to 4-3, a missed call at third would have changed everything, but that’s the game, it goes both ways, always does.
Miles leans in to face his fourth batter, the heart of their order, a grounder to short. One out. Number 35 nails a sharp grounder to Cole on the first-base line, no time to toss, no time to get to the bag, he lunges from his knees. Two outs. A high infield popup, Miles calls it and squeezes it. Three up, three down. Two perfect innings.
“I need hits…” Coach Chris implores.
And a bunch of overachievers who were once 0-8 and are now down one run to the best team in the league in the top of the sixth and last inning start to believe.
Miles walks. Ben strikes out looking. Hammer walks. Dakota strikes out. Men on first and second. Two out. Down one. Our leadoff hitter, Cole, to the plate. A ballplayer to the core, he ropes a line drive that falls into the sweet grass in center. Miles lunges from second and aims at third, Coach Chris sends him all the way, not a doubt in his mind, waving his arm like Alex Grammas to Johnny Bench. Miles hits the bag on the run and turns for home, the throw is on the way, a play at the plate…
That’s it. It’s over. An odyssey that began in the spring of 2015 on the Coach-Pitch Royals, Coach Robert Sellers teaching Miles to squash the bug and squeeze his mitt. Spring and fall ever since. Number 21, always 21, Clemente. Mickey Gordon Park. Franklin Park. Round Hill. Hamilton. Under the lights at Haske. The hot afternoons. The cold evenings. The dropped fly balls. The hit batters. The game balls. The ones who play in the dirt. The ones who roll in the dirt. The parents coaching from the stands. The players yearning to be in the stands. The wins. The losses. The ties. The five-run rule. The tough coaches. The brilliant coaches. And one coach that nearly ruined baseball for all of us. The walks, oh, so many walks. And the tears. Last night, they were from a 51-year-old coach watching helplessly as his son rounded third and slid into home. Not because he was out. But, because it is over.