2014-08-29 / Commentary

Hitting the Big Time

It’s not a criticism; It’s an observation
Mike Cox

My son Chad reminisced recently about a touching father-son moment we shared many calendar pages ago. It seems I said the “Land of Opportunity” story was a myth, and most people end up in much the same place as our parents and friends. I think I was misquoted.

I was trying to insure he realized how much effort is required to pursue one’s dreams. Whether one becomes a business magnate, movie star, or sports hero, most successful people are gifted in more ways than just talent. One has to be driven, maybe even selfish. The successful also must be lucky.

Baseball, especially, seems filled with rags to riches stories and also back to rags stories. I played two years of cow pasture baseball in the early ’70s, and each tiny community we visited featured a local player as promising as anyone who never quite made the Big Time. Women, alcohol, injury, politics, or just bad luck precipitated eventual failure.

Last fall, an old friend named Bugsy passed away. One year younger than me, he was the closest thing to Roy Hobbs I ever knew. We grew up together and eventually became close friends. He could do anything athletically he chose to, except develop good habits. Strong drink was his main deterrent, but he didn’t work hard enough to achieve excellence. He was so gifted this wasn’t something he developed early on.

As the Little League World Series plays out on national television for the next couple of weeks, we can watch closely and determine who will separate themselves from the crowd and who will settle back into that crowd after the games end. Each year, ESPN chronicles the current crop of dreamers and gives us living examples of those who once played in Williamsport and are now in the Big Leagues.

We get to watch the pitchers achieve the equivalent of 90-MPH fastballs. We get to see the tiny sluggers catch the ball perfectly; barrel up is the current explanatory phrase. We get to see the possibilities and the dreams.

Most are just kids having the time of their lives. The swings are definitely not text book. The throwing motions aren’t picture perfect. The emotions are close to the surface. In a few years, nearly all these kids will remember the experience fondly. Right now, they want to win, and the pressure is real—just like the big boys.

During an early round game featuring New England, the second baseman made an error that extended the inning. The coach walked to the mound to settle the pitcher down. He told the second baseman, his own son, it was okay; no damage had been done.

The TV camera revealed the player didn’t believe either father or coach. He was sure his mistake had cost his team victory, and he had committed the biggest blunder in baseball history. Everyone who’s ever tried to catch a baseball in competition knows the feeling. You could see it in the player’s eyes, rimmed with tears. Try telling that kid it’s just a game, and we’re having fun. Maybe a few years down the road but not right then.

Sometimes high definition reveals too much.

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