Friday, June 13, 2014

Tag him Jerry! Tag him!

In the Ethics of the Fathers, one learns that anger takes one out of this world; it can cut years off one's life.  Anger according to the Rambam is the worst personal trait.  Moses is kept from entering the Land of Israel because of anger.  Sometimes anger manifests itself in different ways: a burning silent rage or a wild tantrum.  In either case, one loses reality and must bear the consequences of such scenes.  I witnessed the latter case, a wild tantrum that had dire consequences for a twelve year old and his all-star Little League team.  A wild tantrum brought on despair deflating all hopes of continuing on road to the World Series.  For a Little League'r such is the end of the world or at least that summer!

Back in '69 in the early summer I had not turned 13 so still eligible as a 12 year old and was selected and chosen to play first base for my hometown Little League All-Star team.  We had a very strong team that consisted of hitters and pitchers and we won our first game pretty handily.  The next game, however, was real competition.

I was lead off and saw a first fat pitch that I thought resembled a grapefruit and swung at it expecting to crush the ball through the infield.  I missed.  Determined not to be overconfident, I bore down and received an exact same pitch. I swung and missed again!  I determined that the ball was sailing away from my left handed stance as the reason why I kept missing the ball.  So I adjusted, and the next pitch which surprisingly was not wasted, but rather was the exact same pitch, sailing away from me, I reached out and poked the ball hard to the third baseman. He bobbled the ball and I beat his throw to first. (I can't remember if my at bat was recorded as a hit or error - probably an error).  I stole second base and got a sign to steal third! (In Little League, when I played ball, a runner could not begin to steal a base until the pitch crossed the plate - so the catcher inherently had an advantage)  I broke for third and saw the third baseman holding the ball, so there was only one thing to do which was drummed into us as children :  knock the ball out of his glove! (Such a move now I believe has been outlawed for safety reasons!)  I put my head down and folded my arms against my chest and drove into the third baseman lifting him up hoping to dislodge the ball.  He landed squarely on his rump holding the ball, jumping up piping mad wanting to swat me like a fly with his glove, but I was already trotting to the dugout.  He was screaming foul or something foul against me, but I paid no attention since he probably would have done the same.  That's the way we were coached.  As a matter of fact, my coach complimented me by saying "good job! next time he'll think twice when he sees you coming!"  I was out by a mile!

That first inning was just an indication of what kind of game ensued.  In the bottom of the 6th (last inning in Little League) our opponents were up and the score tied. With one out and a force at home plate, we crouched into position.  Our pitcher had been struggling, he had walked a batter putting a runner on first with the bases loaded.  [One dreams of a double play to extend the game into extra innings, but that does not happen in Little League often.  As a matter of fact, one calls that a miracle!] The play had to go to home to force the out.  We were ready: the wind up and pitch, a hard bounding ball hit to yours truly at first base.  I tracked the ball until my sight was impaired by the first base runner who jumped in front of me momentarily.  I got down on one knee and place my glove on the ground making sure that the ball would not go through me for a hit.  I was determined to bring my glove up for a bad hop and block my face with my bare hand.  The runner scampered away at the last second when I caught sight of the ball landing directly into my glove.  With all my adrenalin coursing through my veins, I pivoted to peg the ball to the plate.  (Do they still call it a peg?!)  It was a perfect throw! directly at the catcher's mitt, a direct hit!  I am thinking "out!"

The ball popped out of the catcher's glove.  Our catcher did not execute the fundamental skill of using two hands.  His bare hand could have safeguarded the ball.  'Could have's are meaningless.  At this point, nevertheless, the game was not over because the umpire did not call the game's end since the runner incredibly missed the plate!  So our coaches and managers started shouting "Tag him Jerry, Tag him!!"  Then the whole team was screaming in unison, "TAG HIM JERRY TAG HIM!!"  Our catcher, however, heard nothing.  He had thrown down his mask, thrown down his glove and started his tantrum!  He heard nothing until the crescendo of "TAG HIM JERRY TAG HIM" was so crushing that everyone at the ballpark realized the runner missed home.  Jerry lamely reached for the ball to attempt a tag at the runner, however, by that time the runner had gotten wind that he missed the plate, he pranced back like a dancer extending his toe to successfully touch it.  When the umpire called the game's finish, Jerry just plopped himself down and intensified his bawling.

We lost.  We were taken out of this world (of Little League baseball) our life cut short of our dreams because of the sin of anger and self loathing.  We were kept out of the 'promised land' just like the Israelite generation of the Exodus being kept out of the Promised Land of Canaan.  One must realize the imperative to stay focused and not get riled, stay enthusiastic and passionate but not get upset! Redemption comes with the blink of an eye!

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