Coach knows: ‘That’s what it’s all about’

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 3, 2001

H e stands at the plate with his heart pounding fast; The bases are loaded; the die has been cast. Mom and Dad cannot help him; he stands all alone. A hit at this moment would send the team home.

He grinned as he opened his glove, stretching it just wide enough to offer a glimpse inside.

&uot;The game ball? You got the game ball?&uot; I said incredulously.

&uot;Yea,&uot; he said red-faced. &uot;Here, you hold it for me.&uot;

With that, he headed off for pizza, and I stood staring at the prized possession in my hand.

The game ball – an honor typically bestowed on the player who hit a home run, or who tallied the most RBIs, or even made a key defensive play – was given to this 7-year-old Dixie Youth rookie who had struggled since the third game to get a hit and actually get on base.

The ball nears the plate; he swings and he misses. There’s a groan from the crowd, with some boos and hisses. A thoughtless voice cries, &uot;Strike out the bum!&uot; Tears fill his eyes; the game’s no longer fun.

This night, though, he’d broken that strike-out streak with two hits. Granted, neither was a remarkable in its distance or style (and with one he was thrown out at first, technically nullifying the designation of a &uot;hit.&uot;) But his bat hit the ball – not once, but twice.

And it connected when it counted. In the last inning, trailing the league’s best team by 7 points, the rookie at the bottom of the lineup had become the lead-off batter for his team.

We prayed. We crossed our fingers. And we whooped and yelled when he got that hit.

His team lost that game – like so many others – but you’d never guess by their spirits after this game. The coaches’ chests swelled visibly with pride. Their boys had played ball – and played well – against a tough opponent. As one said, &uot;you’ve got nothing to be ashamed of. Ya’ done good.&uot;

As we headed across the park for a well-timed pizza party, his coach caught my eye.

&uot;How’d Thomas like that game ball,&uot; he said with a wink.

I unfurled my hand. &uot;It’s right here. He wouldn’t even let me put it in the car,&uot; I said.

&uot;You know, that’s what it’s all about.&uot;

Remember he’s just a litle boy who stands all alone. So open your heart and give him a break. For it’s moments like this a man you can make. Keep this in mind when you hear someone forget. He’s just a little boy, not a man yet.

Hours later, at home, he asked about the game ball.

&uot;Why do you think I got it?&uot; he said.

&uot;Well, I know what I think. Tell me first what you think.&uot;

&uot;Cuz I didn’t get a hit for so long, and I finally hit the ball tonight?&uot; he asked.

&uot;Maybe. Or, maybe it’s because you simply did what the team needed you to do – hit the ball in the last inning. Maybe it’s just for doing yout part to help the team,&uot; I offered.

&uot;Maybe &uot; he said rolling the ball around on the ground. &uot;We didn’t win though.&uot;

&uot;But did you have fun?&uot;

&uot;Oh, yea. It was fun.&uot;

Later, as I tucked him in for the night, I found that baseball clasped tightly in the young rookie’s hands. And I remembered the coach’s words.

Yes, that is what it’s all about.

Stacy Graning, Democrat editor, can be reached at 445-3539 or via e-mail, stacy.graning@natchezdemocrat.com. The poem quoted hangs in the pressbox at the Ferriday’s George Perry field.