City Lights: A Little League career not so illustrious

Next week, the Ocean View Little League may win the Little League Baseball World Series.

Even if they don't emerge on top, though, I'll be impressed — and I'm not just saying that because they're local or because they play pretty well for kids.

I'm saying it because they can play baseball at all, which was more than I could do during my Little League career.

Well, perhaps that's an understatement. When one of the Ocean View batters wallops a base hit, I'll think fondly on the time I hit a single as well. When one of their fielders catches a pop fly, I'll remember the time I snared one too — even if it was in batting practice, not during an actual game.

Those were my two achievements in Little League: one single and one infield catch during batting practice. Aside from that, I went hitless at the plate over the course of the season and misjudged every ball hit to me.

Samuel G. Freedman, one of my favorite journalists, wrote an insightful essay about the times he's come up short in life.

"Failure liberates you," he wrote. "It liberates you from the fear of failure; it liberates you from the delusion you can somehow be flawless."

I don't know if I had any delusion about being flawless when I signed up for what turned out to be my only season of Little League. But the experience may have helped me overcome a few fears of failure — after all, when you've struck out 19 consecutive times at the plate, a 20th time doesn't sound all that traumatic.

In any case, it proved to be a fun experiment. I was a bookish kid growing up and hardly the athletic type. When my dad and I played catch in the backyard, some of my errant throws sailed over the fence and made us fear for our neighbors' safety.

Still, I became something of a baseball expert through reading up on the sport's history, and I figured that if I could recite most of the names of the 1927Yankees, stepping into the batter's box wouldn't prove too daunting a task.

That delusion shattered the moment I stepped into the box. The first few balls the pitching machine hurled went by me so fast I didn't even move the bat off my shoulder. My 12-year-old teammates threw quite a bit slower, but I ended up swinging at air against them too in practice. The coach quickly assigned me to right field and ninth in the batting order.

It helped that the rest of my team was about as awful as I was. We started the season by losing 17 games in a row before we finally scraped out a victory. Once, we walked in the winning run with the bases loaded. My teammates, who could hardly blame me for their appalling record, took pity and started applauding in the dugout when I managed to hit foul balls.

The next season, I humbly decided to end my Little League career. After all, not only had I gotten a hit and caught a fly in practice, but I had also swatted a few foul balls, which was better than missing entirely. I opted to quit while I was ahead.

Still, I ended up finding a use for all that baseball knowledge: I became a sports writer in high school and covered the Sonora High team for my neighborhood paper. And if Ocean View goes all the way this year, I can honestly say I played a part in their victory. After all, as the city editor, I helped put the story on the page.

City Editor MICHAEL MILLER can be reached at (714) 966-4617 or at michael.miller@latimes.com.

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