Good Sport: Down and routed in the Pony Leagues

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by Jeff Laughlin

I missed the violence because I wasn’t allowed to eat inside the stadium unless I bought from the empty concession stands, which we can all agree is a ridiculous rule at what is essentially a Little League baseball game.

By the time I finished my Cook-Out barbecue tray on the hood of my car, the metal bats had carried through the entire Eastern New York lineup. The score reflected as much.

The players trudged through inning after inning, the blowout increasing. Once the mercy rule seemed imminent and the game seemed worthless, the stadium grew eerily quiet.

The beauty of the blowout often goes unheralded.

The sun rested just above the treeline as the bats pinged over and over again. 11-2. 12-2. The Greensboro Green, lone representative of North Carolina in the Colt Baseball East Zone tournament, lacked the power and discipline to play with the Eastern New York Hurricanes. Or they had a really bad night. Or they were just kids and I really had no reason to lament or praise their performance.

The sky’s hue shifted from pink and orange to that first dark blue of coming night. Aside from the occasional announcement over the loudspeakers, the Eastern New York parents and coaches made the only noise. The rest of us eased back onto empty bleachers, tall men like me stretching out their arms and legs.

The relaxation of being outdoors on a gorgeous night outweighed the parents’ occasional cheers. The ease of that “Hey, anything can happen” attitude set in — the attitude that dads tell their kids when they don’t want to teach them about loss. The very last of the sun took us all away from the massacre on the field — the crowd resembled Stepford more than Greensboro by the time Eastern New York scored their final run of the sixth.

13-2. Even if the Greens avoided the mercy rule, they still had only six outs to make up nine runs and earn extra innings. While the odds of that happening were slim, some parents did not take that chance.

“Focus Kyle. Focus,” one particularly involved mother yelled after Kyle missed a routine pop-up. I mean, come on, Kyle. Your little brother could have caught that. He even told you so just after you dropped it.

Still, the serenity of the evening stultified any crowd responsiveness. With one down and one on due to Kyle’s grievous error, I found myself rooting for one more inning. I mean, how many times do you get to sit in low-80s weather in July? How often does stadium noise deaden to a lull? How often does it look like the sunset could actually land on the field, setting the participants ablaze?

I mean, how can you not romanticize that scene?

Turns out, romanticism is dead. Eastern New York turned a gorgeous double play to make up for our friend Kyle’s incompetence and the parents who trod all the way down from the big, bad Northeast celebrated their dominance. And the Greens shook hands in surrender. Their war was over.

Meanwhile, I lingered and watched the parents console their little warriors. Would that I could have told them how beatific the whole scene looked from the stands or informed them of how meaningless the loss would seem later in their lives.

The Pony Leagues can only bring so much joy and pain. I gathered my bag and my poetic disposition and ambled toward my car. Amid the clatter of cleats on concrete, parents loaded up their kids and awaited their next battle. I was still hungry, so I went and had a milkshake.

I can only hope the Greens did the same, because that’s how you wash down a rout.