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FIRST-PERSON: Gracious sportsmanship in the little leagues

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Just when you think you’ve had enough of a good thing, it’s time for the fall baseball instructional league.

My boys are back at the ballpark for 12 weeks of fall training. I was talking to Derek, my 5-year-old, and I asked him, “What is it you love most about baseball?”

He grinned and said, “When we say, ‘Bad game! Bad game!'”

Puzzled, I asked him, “When do you say that?”

“Mom,” he sighed, “at the end of the game. You know, when we all go out on the field?”

“And you line up to shake hands with the other team?” I prodded.

“Yes,” he replied. “That’s when we all say, ‘Bad game! Bad game!'” He was grinning from ear to ear, and I hated to ruin the whole thing for him, but he was talking about the traditional goodwill team walk. It provides closure to the game and is supposed to be a sportsmanlike gesture on the part of both teams.

“Derek,” I said, “did you know that you were supposed to be saying, ‘Good game!’ to the other players?”

“Mom,” he sighed once again, “we all know that.”

Now I get it. I guess when you’re a five-year-old ball player, the stress and confusion of the real game is not nearly as fun as your own hand-slappin’, trash-talkin’ tradition at the end.

As I was watching the United States team from Kentucky win the Little League World Series the other night, I cheered for the incredible kids who had played their hearts out and won. My family had been watching the entire series with great enthusiasm. We felt a real connection with the team from Louisville because of our own Kentucky ties and American pride, of course. We felt like we sort of got to know those boys and their coaches. After all, even a child is known by his doing.

As we watched them play baseball, we had to keep reminding ourselves that these boys were just kids — kids who have worked and sweated and motivated themselves to get to the pinnacle of a childhood dream. Kids who have homework and preteen struggles. Kids with dirty socks and sweaty faces. Kids who don’t put up their bikes or remember to flush the toilet. Kids who make their parents laugh and cry. Just kids — American kids — who grow up knowing they can do and be anything they want. Kids with the world by the tail.

When Kentucky’s pitcher Aaron Alvey realized they had just won the Little League World Series, it was the greatest moment of his life. In this game alone he had homered for the game-winning run. In the series itself, he set two pitching records for strikeouts and scoreless innings and tied the mark for consecutive no-hit innings. He was the victor! At the age of 12, he was sitting on the top of the world.

I had seen the camera panning across the dugout where the Japanese team was literally sobbing. What would happen when those players were lined up to extend their congratulations to the American winners?

Aaron Alvey led the Kentucky team to the field. I thought I saw a flicker of concern cross his young face when he found he was looking straight into a sea of wet, Asian eyes — a mob of little boys whose heaving mouths bawled the choking cries of their defeat. In what I believe to be an even greater moment of victory for this young man, I watched as he reacted by doing something genuinely sportsmanlike and generously compassionate. Rather than only extending his hand, Aaron Alvey opened his arms. He hugged the Japanese players and patted their backs with careful respect. However exuberant he and his teammates felt inside, they showed a gracious humility when they realized their victory came at a heartbreaking price for the team that lost.

As I tucked my children into bed that night, I talked to them about the kind of humbleness displayed by a gracious victor. I hope they never forget that in the midst of their victories throughout life, there will be those on the perimeter who are suffering from sorrow. Even a child is known by his doing. I will take the lesson from this 12-year-old and remember that even a grown woman is known by hers, as well.
Rebecca Ingram Powell is an author, speaker and baseball mom in Nashville, Tenn. Her e-mail is [email protected].

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