(HOST) When it comes to Little League, commentator Ted Levin has learned that many things determine how you play the game.
(LEVIN) What a difference a year makes. Last season, my Thet- ford Little League team – majors division – never won a game. We managed to lose 13 consecutive games, a dismal showing by any standard. Whenever we got a lead, which was seldom, we couldn’t hold it. More often we were down by the end of the first inning and buried by the third, with no hope for recovery. Momentum was a force that moved away from us.
This season was different. We were 10 and 2 and won the Con- necticut Valley Little League South division. In the post-season regional tournament, we defeated a tough Bradford team in the semifinals in the bottom of the sixth and last inning on a two-out, two-strike, walk-off hit before losing in the finals to a team in our own league that we had already beaten three times during the regular season.
Five players were selected to represent the league in the 11- and 12-year-old district All Star tournament in Randolph; three others made the nine- and ten-year-old All Star team. (And a case could have been made for a couple of other all-star caliber players, too).
What accounts for such a change of fortune, a hometown version of the 1969 Mets, who also went from last to first and won the World Series?
The boys grew bigger and stronger and acquired more stamina, both physical and mental, than they had the year before. The sixth-graders had matured on the eve of their teen-age years. There were less meltdowns on the field. The boys played with confidence, not arrogance, twice came back to win in their final
at bat, and showed empathy for the players on less competitive teams.
Bonds formed between the older and younger ballplayers, which unified the team. Everyone acquired a nickname – Pony, Lunch Box, Z Man, J Dog, Broccoli, Boots – which suggested both cam- araderie and authenticity.
Some players may have reached the zenith of their athletic accomplishments this season; others may just be beginning. Either way, the boys hung together, supported each other and took pride in each other’s accomplishments. They were the op- posite of Lord of the Flies, a democracy of nine-, ten-, 11- and 12-year-olds. We had captains, not dictators. Role players, not substitutes.
All that youthful growth aside, the storybook season ended in a 14 to 1 defeat in the finals of the regional tournament, the boys play- ing like deer frozen in headlights, tentative, uncommitted, spark- less, with an air of expectant doom.
And how do I explain such a spanking? Well, it’s the nature of the game. And the nature of young boys, the combination of which makes for an exciting summer on the ball field.
This is Ted Levin of Coyote Hollow in Thetford Ctr.
Ted Levin is a writer and photographer and winner of the 2004 Burroughs Medal for Nature Writing. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.