It now seems like a lifetime ago but as soon as our children were eligible (two sons and one daughter), my husband and I signed them up in North Whittier’s Keenan-Avocado Heights Little League.
The most memorable season to me was when Ray managed the Pirates, the team that our son, Steve, was on. Two of the players were somewhat physically challenged in that one wore an appliance on his foot and the other wore a brace on his calf. Each of the two always struck out or walked to first base and then couldn’t run fast enough to make it to second base.
But Ray wasn’t in-it to win-it. He was in it so that every boy who signed up could play ball. This taught them the sportsmanship aspect of the game, camaraderie, loyalty, timeliness, and the importance of getting to practice. And, just as important, so that parents who paid and showed up for the games could see their sons in action.
The bases could be loaded with a possible homerun in sight, but under no circumstances did Ray ever change the lineup. If you were on deck, you were next, and that was that. There was no “warming the bench” or substituting a batter for a “pinch hitter” at a crucial time in the game, and that’s the way the “ball bounced.” And that, in my opinion, should be the very premise or foundation of all youth sports leagues.
Of course, there was the usual gossip and murmurs from the disgruntled, super competitive parents to whom winning meant everything. On the other hand, there were those grateful parents whose sons played the entire game…win or lose.
This is not meant to diminish the joy, thrill, or sense of pride in winning…there is that; however, I feel that the qualities Ray tried to instill in his team far outweighed always being on the winning team.
And at season’s end what a surprise we had in store! Ray and his team, The Pirates, were the real winners when he was awarded the much-deserved Manager of the Year plaque presented by the league! Our entire family, the team members and their families were so proud of him on that unforgettable, most pleasant Little League day.
The following, to me, is the most befitting quote from a famous sports figure, manager or coach and it is further proof that, (and I’m paraphrasing now) “It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.”
Sharon Benson Smith is a member of the writing class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. It is held off-campus at the Norwalk Senior Center.