Last year, after a season of ups and downs, we entered into the World Series in Dalton, Georgia thinking, "There's no way we'll win it all... maybe we'll finish top five." And then we did win. This season, we followed the same pattern - ups and downs, wins and losses. The biggest obstacle the boys faced this season was themselves. The age of eight is this awkward imbalance of childhood and adolescence - this weird space in between being little and in the middle. Old enough to know not to cry when you are thrown out at first base or you pop out to center field or when you miss a ball, but not old enough to have the composure to hold it in all the time. Old enough to understand never give up, but not wise enough to tap into the anger that can motivate one to keep moving forward. That's been the toughest part of this season - one that follows a World Series Championship but still contains the same ups and downs any season of baseball would contain.
I can only speak for myself... I walked into that park last week knowing we most definitely could win it all but most likely wouldn't. 26 teams. Heat. All of our players scattered around different condos and hotels in the Orange Beach/Gulf Shores area. The likelihood of winning the World Series back to back was looking smaller and smaller.
We pulled an easy draw for pool play, and we only allowed 4 runs in the first three games. Our real difficult play didn't begin until our seventh game of the tournament. We headed up with the Gulf Coast Storm, and, to be honest, we were caught a little off guard. This team kinda came in from nowhere, really. I forget what the score was - like 12 - 4, I think - but I do remember the fact that our players looked like they had watched their favorite animal being run over and killed by a diesel truck about half-way during the game. When they were getting ready to hit in the fourth inning, I walked over to the dugout and gave a little pep talk in true Crazy Mama fashion...
"Hey, Bandits... what inning is it??? How many innings do we play????? We haven't given up on you - you've given up on yourselves!!!! We're still in this!!! You can do it!!!!"
Usually, my little words of wisdom and encouragement light a fire under their baseball pants. This time, not so much. The kids' spirits were as low as they could be. There were a lot of tears in the dugout and on the field. They were popping the ball up. It was awful. Possibly the most awful display by my little Bandits. Tempers and moods in the stands were all over the place. At the end of the game, we scattered - the whole team of players, parents, and fans just scattered like shard off a broken glass. Some went to grab a bite to eat. Some went back to their hotel for a breather. Some of us stayed at the park, but those that did (myself included) took breaks of our own and barely spoke to each other. We had a couple of hours of down time, and it was much needed. We had entered the loser's bracket, and we knew we'd have to win three more games to take home the trophy. That would make for six games in one day, and all of us knew the odds were against us.
Whatever we did during the break must have worked. And I guess the loss served our boys well. They came back with fresh vigor and ready to whoop some tail. It certainly helped that the next game we played would be against that team that shut us out in Mississippi. The boys wanted revenge, and they got it. And that sent us into the championship games. Yes, games - as in two games. We would have to beat the Storm, the team who had beat us earlier that day, twice in order to win the tournament. The first game was a breeze. We beat them 12 - 0. But then there was the second game...
We battled back and forth with the storm the whole game. And I think it was in the fifth inning that a couple of errors on the field on our part gave them the lead at 9 - 4. We were able to score one in the bottom of the fifth, held them at 9 in the top of the sixth, and then went to bat for what seemed like the last time for the season. I mean what were the odds that a group of eight and nine year old boys playing their sixth game for the day would have enough gas left in the tank and fire in their soul to rally back and score five runs to tie the game?
The odds may have been stacked against them, but they did it anyway. It was brutal. They fought hard. And they managed to pull the game into extra innings. The Storm answered back with two in the top of the seventh inning, and the Bandits did the same, tying the game again and putting us into the eighth inning. The boys took the field. They were beyond exhausted, but somehow they held the score. Going up to bat, they knew all they needed was one run. Just one. The first three batters hit fine base hits and loaded up the bases. Solid base hit out to left field and the Bandits win the game.
The written word doesn't do it justice. It never could. The emotion was raw. I get chills as I relive it in my mind. I can't say that I've ever been more proud of anyone in my whole life as I was of my son and his team. I saw a fire in David's heart I would have never known was there. He wanted it. He could taste the victory. There was no way those boys were going to let someone else take it from them. The kids had begun to shut down in that final game. There were tears and headaches and body aches and requests to go home and just go to bed. But they lifted each other up and encouraged one another. And we as parents were on the outside of the fence doing the same.
After the game, the parents and anyone else who was there to watch - grandparents, aunts and uncles, older and younger siblings - stormed the field. We went nuts. I mean, winning the World Series two years in a row with this age boys is pretty unbelievable, and the boys actually understood what they had accomplished. David was weeping uncontrollably. The tears and smiles and laughter all melted together.
One of our coaches put it best in what he said after the game, and I'll do my best to paraphrase here: "We talked about being men today. I told you we could just lay down and be babies and get down on ourselves or we could stand up and fight and be men. And what you boys did here today put you one step closer to being men." Boy was he right.
That's just it for me... it's more than the win or the loss. It's the lesson learned. And what each of those boys learned in that final game was clear. Fight. Even when it seems impossible, fight. Dig deep. Give it all you've got. When you think there's nothing left, dig deeper. They learned first hand that it ain't over 'til it's over. And when it was over, those boys were all champions. In more ways than one.