All afternoon when Tucker brought up the game I reminded him how important it is to always play hard and never give up. We talked about character.
And somewhere in the bottom of my black heart I hoped for rain, hurricanes, tornadoes, and any other natural disaster that would destroy the baseball fields and cause the tournament season to be permanently suspended so we never had to play another game. Alas, the sun shone and we showed up at the field right on time.
As the members of the other team began to trickle in, I was shocked to see they were not the amazon children of the previous night. No, they were somewhat normal in size and did not even bring entourages. My hopes soared - we might be able to get a few outs and score a few points in this game.
I texted Trey (who was still at work), "We should be able to hang with this team!" Win or lose, it wouldn't be the discouraging beat-down of the previous night. I loved baseball again.
The whole thing was a nail-biter. They scored four runs in the top of the inning; we scored three runs in the bottom. They went three and out on offense in the top; we never got a kid on base in the bottom. It was thrilling, this little league battle of skill and focus. We shouted to our kids - "good play!" and "you'll get it next time!" It actually occurred to me that this was what baseball should be like -- friendly competition and excitement.
Until somewhere around the fifth inning. One of the other team's parents was running the scoreboard, and he neglected to give us one of the points we'd earned. I've run the scoreboard before, and I spent the entire game in fear of getting screamed at for errors, so the missing point disturbed me but not to the point of concern.
Until we run-ruled the inning with five points. Our boys should have been in the dug-out getting their gloves, and instead we were sending another kid to the plate. I think one of the coaches must have noticed and told the umpire because he ended the inning. This drew whisperings and then shouts of confusion from the stands. We only had four recorded points according to the scoreboard, and people were confused as to why the inning was over. Parents in the stands began telling the scorekeeper that the board should read thirteen instead of twelve, but he wouldn't listen. In fact, he was adamant that we only had twelve points and refused to change it. Finally the umpire had to come over and make him add the point. In one instant, the game went from intense, friendly competition to some parallel universe where people's lives depend on the outcome of little league games.
And I got a little riled up. It was whisper-y crazy, in my defense, but crazy nonetheless. I was fired up about that point. Why would you think the parent's on your opponent's team would lie to you about a point? The inning was over according to the official, so the evidence clearly supported that those parents were right and you had made a mistake. Why be so rude about it?
As I whispered these thoughts to Trey, he just stared at me with that "you're turning into the crazy mom" look, and I made a mental note to work on my self-control.
In the bottom of the sixth, we were down by two points. We quickly scored twice to tie up the game, and I'm not kidding when I tell you that the tension on that field and in the stands was rivaled only by a world cup game complete with horns. It was edge-of-your-seat, intense baseball -- played by seven year olds.
The next batter approached the plate and hit a beautiful grounder that the opposing team fielded, but an overthrow allowed our runner on third to run into home. The stands erupted with cheers from one team and gasps from the other as this battle of the titans came to an end, but our opponent's bench erupted with something else.
The coaches were screaming and taunting the umpire about how we had done something illegal. The umpire said a few words we couldn't hear from the stands, and then he simply exited the field. As we began collecting our water bottles and Keaton's toys, we saw the coach from the other team storm off the field, on a mission. Word passed through the stands that he was going to get the league official.
If I was fired up before, then now I was going to explode. I'm afraid my mouth began moving faster than my brain at that moment (in a normal voice this time, no more whispers), "My son is out there and these people are teaching him that when you lose you should get angry and yell and throw a fit, and this is unacceptable! I am appalled! We won, life will go on, I promise. Let it go!" And I hated baseball and swore to never let Tucker play summer ball again for the rest of his life.
The league official did come to the field, and after some on-field conversation our runners went back to third and first and the opposing team grabbed their gloves and went back onto the field. I found out later that the concern was over the league rules regarding overthrows, and I still don't know if our run was legal or not. Apparently in the on-field conversation our coach said something to the effect of, "We won. But if you need us to play one more run we'll do it."
Our next batter jacked a fly ball to the outfield on the first pitch and our third base runner scored within a matter of seconds. Even with the preceding scene, the outcome of the game was not changed except for that last batter who now gets to tell stories of his spectacular hit.
And this team, this young, underdog team that had had the life pounded out of them the night before, got a win. A real-live big win, earned twice, and with a real-life example of good sportsmanship thrown in as a bonus.
And I loved baseball again.