I'd figured out all the possible permutations in my head before the bottom of the 6th even began. AJ would be up 7th in the inning; his team trailed by two. One possibility was that he would get to the plate with the bases loaded, two outs and down by one. In all the others, he didn't get to hit or came up with the game at least tied. So, chances were good the game wouldn't fall on his sometimes-nervous shoulders.
It was the first time all game that I was happy he'd been dropped in the batting order. Because I was pretty irritated about that for the first five-and-a-half innings.
Yes, we're back to baseball, my love-hate relationship with Little League and the people who coach it. We missed a year, so frustrating was AJ's 2010 coach and season. He didn't want to play, ran around in Spring Soccer instead, and I was totally fine with the decision. He was miserable that last baseball year, ignored and belittled by his coach, annoyed by his Dad's constant pointers. His year off was a relief in many ways, for both of us.
When he said he wanted to play again this season, however, I was guardedly pleased. He loves baseball as much as I do. LOVES IT. Watches it with me all the time. Asks me first thing in the morning if the A's won. Comments--loudly--on the plays and umpires. But this Little League thing is tough. It's cliquish. It's "Who You Know." It's macho. But he wanted to play, so I gave him a speech:
"Blah blah blah most important thing is you have fun blah blah blah no matter where you hit or what position you play blah blah blah be a good teammate and support your team blah blah blah and no getting upset win or lose blah blah blah do your best and that's enough blah blah blah it's SUPPOSED TO BE FUN!"
AJ, totally and fully getting the message, "I'll be mad if I don't get to play second base."
(For those of you who did not follow my Little League travails two years ago, read this or let me sum up: His asshole coach always played him in the OF, no matter the score or the situation, when all he ever wanted to do was play 2nd base, not all the time, just once in a while, a token gesture that he a) more than deserved--his ability was not appreciably different from others who played second base--and b) would have kept him more interested/invested in the Little League experience. Also, he was 8, so, do results really matter?)
He hasn't played second base this year, either but we are eight games in and he has gotten to play all over the field. This past game, he spent two innings at 1st, two at 3rd and one in center. Invested.
There is, of course, the matter of him hitting at the bottom of the order. Which is weird, but understandable, to a point.
He began the season hitting 6th, which is about right for his ability (I'd say 5th, but I'm biased) and stayed there for the first five games. He only managed one hit in that time--10 ABs--but was putting the ball in play, only striking out twice. Then, in Game Six, he was inexplicably dropped to the bottom. Like, last.
I was pretty upset. Yes, there was a kid hitting lower than him who had been knocking the snot out of the ball and absolutely deserved a promotion. That kid went to 6th. AJ went to 10th (they use a continuous batting order). Not deserved. And it affected him. He had his two worst ABs of the season, the team got smoked (by a team that was winless until that point) and scored only one run.
Of course, I didn't say anything to the coaches. Not my style. I've coached plenty and meddling from parents is the worst. Even though I feel like I have a case, maybe I don't, maybe they saw something at practice they didn't like. Plus, his coaches this season are excellent. They are positive. They teach, instead of hammering only on wins and losses. They have moved the kids around to various positions and even sat their own sons on the bench from time to time (that NEVER happens). So, they get a pass on this score. I gave AJ the speech again, keep focused on playing defense and your ABs and supporting your teammates and we went on from there.
The next game, AJ was back up to 7th in the order and responded by going 3-for-3 and being smack in the middle of two rallies that led his Dodgers to a 6-4 win over the Yankees, a team that boasts a few players the size of cattle and that had beaten us 15-3 in our first meeting. So...joy. Happy AJ, happy Daddy. He was slightly bummed he didn't get the game ball, a prize he covets so completely that he can't even stand it, but it went to another deserving kid, the not-so-great player that got the game-winning hit, the kid all his teammates are happy for when he succeeds.
Alas, AJ was back in the 10th spot for the game on Tuesday (who's managing this team? Bob Geren?). No explanation that I could think of since he hadn't had a practice in between. The game ball kid got promoted after his big hit on Saturday, which was perfectly fine with me. Reward kids when they do well. I'm all for it. But why did AJ get dropped?
Who knows? I'm guessing the thought process to making out the order is pretty thin. And AJ wasn't nearly as flummoxed as last time since he started the game playing 1st base, his new favorite position because he gets to throw practice grounders before the inning starts. He is a boy of simple pleasures.
So the pitcher for the Giants is throwing heat and he's working on a no-hitter when we get to the bottom of the 3rd and AJ finally gets his first AB. He promptly doubles down the right field line. He eventually comes around to score the first run of the game when a teammate grounds out to drive him in. After touching home plate, he makes a left-hand turn toward the pitcher's mound where he intercepts the teammate jogging back to the dugout. AJ greets him with a high-five and pats him on the back as they jog back together.
Which brings us to the bottom of the 6th. There's one run in for the Dodgers, who still trail 6-5. Runners on are second and third with two outs, the count is 3-1 on the hitter, who is not AJ, but the most uncoordinated kid on the team. Still, we are a single ball away from my nightmare scenario coming true: AJ in the position of hero or goat.
We never get there. Two straight strikes end the game and I watch my son for his reaction. He pounds his right fist into his open hand, but then takes his helmet off gently and puts in in the rack. He lines up with the rest of the team for the handshake and his face betrays no sadness. I'd ask him later, "Were you nervous?" and he said,
"Yeah, but I really wanted to hit."
I tell him that's the right answer and that I'm proud of him. I'm glad he's having fun. I know he is because of the big ol' smile on his face.
That's probably the result of the game ball he's tossing in the air as we walk to the car.