Seems to me great athletes have a sort of rhythm to their trot, and the Little Giants of the 8-year-old division are no exception. They bossa nova to first, they samba into second, they giggle-sing into third. After the practice where we taught them the proper way to slide, they stayed late, skimming across the cardboard appliance box as if taking an escalator to the moon.
"Time to go," I finally had to say.
"My mom's from Boston," one of them tells me.
"So that's where she's from," he says with a shrug.
Obviously, a ball field is a tough place to have a meaningful conversation, and the sooner the Little Giants learn this, the more prepared for life they will be. Meaningful conversation never got anyone anywhere. I know that from working in a newsroom. Several times, just on a lark, I've tried to engage in meaningful conversation. The other parties just looked at me kind of crooked.
"Never mind," I said.
And that was the end of that.
So it is in a dugout, where they pass the time between at-bats with discussions of bugs, bulldogs and the 10 coolest things you can do with a dead lizard.
One of the guys — my own son, my own pre-caffeinated DNA — removed a Band-Aid the other day that he claimed to have worn "for three entire years." No one could prove otherwise. His poor mother — the one with the eyes of a hostage — just shrugged.
"Could be," she said, and went back to texting her bartender.
Three years with the same Band-Aid? The little guy's teammates really liked that. Three years?
On the Giants, we value commitment. I'm all the time telling them that we function best as a team, not 11 individuals. One unit. Under God. Indivisible. With liberty and juice boxes for all.
"Remember, there's no 'i' in team," I tell them.
"Yes, there is."
"Trust me, there's no 'i,'" I say.
"There should be," says Rabbit.
How close is this team? I claimed them all on my taxes. No biggie. I now list 239 dependents, from all the teams I ever coached.
But it has been a great season for the Little Giants, and I think that's what the IRS will judge us on. As usual, we gave all the players nicknames. To reflect their identities, we mostly stuck with swamp creatures. Or superheroes.
"The moms have nicknames too," I tell the parents.
"We do?" squeaks Squeaky.
"But we can't tell you," I say.
OK, maybe we'll reveal them at the year-end team party. This year, we're having ours in Vegas. Gator said he knows someone who knows someone who might get us into the Tropicana. Fingers crossed.
However we celebrate it, it will be a road trip to remember. Just in case, I secured a bond to guarantee against damages. Seemed the sensible thing. On the Little Giants, we are all about sensible behavior.
We are also quite delusional — most men are — a mixture of sensible and delusional, one following the other in emotional lock step. We also have no real sense of scope. When we played the Red Sox a couple of weeks ago, one of the boys thought we were playing the real Red Sox. Ortiz and such.
"We should be so lucky," I said.
"Hey Coach, where's right field?" someone asked.
By the way, in 20 years of this, I've concluded that there is nothing quite so unfair as the way a ball comes off the bat in a Little League game. It defies physics, gravity, the laws of rotation. Like something Lewis Carroll wrote.
Yes, hovering over a Little League field are these black holes that make a baseball behave pretty badly. Plus, you could chop an onion in the time it takes the ball to go from the pitcher's fingers to the catcher's glove. A lot of paranormal mischief can happen in that time, including the batter's beer pong swing.
I watch through my fingers, as if witnessing an exorcism.
All ball fields are a little haunted, but these cursed forces are most apparent on a Little League diamond. A sure pop out will fall like a teardrop between three infielders, who were so close at the time that they might've been swapping gum, or switching Band-Aids, or having a spitting contest. Eight-year-old boys might be the most social creatures ever.
"All my teeth are loose," says one.
"Today at school, I glued a tooth back in," says another.
"That's so silarious," says the third.
What's silarious? Apparently, it's a combo of silly and hilarious. You know, silarious.
Yes, busy as they are, the Little Giants of the 8-year-old league still find time to improve the English language. Little Giants. Little Shakespeares.
Constant as the northern star.