When the final out was called at Cooperstown All-Star Village, it was not just the end of the game but the end of a family era. On the final day of a week-long tournament, my son’s team was down by one run in the bottom of the ninth. There were two outs and two boys on base, including my son James, who was on third. If the boys won, they would be in the playoffs. As far as little league goes, it was about as exciting as possible.
James had been waiting to go to Cooperstown for his entire life. He had been playing ball with the same neighborhood boys since he was three: as preschoolers, they played T-ball in the local park with dads coaching. By six, they played organized little league, then travel baseball from 11 to 13.
Sports schedules dictated the rhythm of our life
In many ways, baseball schedules dictated the rhythm of our family’s life for a decade: fall ball in September, winter training, and little league games every weekend in the spring and summer.
By the time the boys got to Cooperstown All-Star Village in August, three boys, including James, had attended school together from kindergarten through the end of eighth grade. Parents called them the “Wolf Pack” because of their middle school mascot and the fact that they were inseparable; playing in the same rock band, walking to and from school as a group, and eating lunch together every day.
They were headed to different high schools
In the fall, they would attend separate high schools, putting many of these rituals to end. “So what?” my son said when I reminded him of this fact. “We’ll still see each other all the time, nothing will change.”
“Nothing, except everything,” I thought but didn’t say.
But in August, life was still as good as it could possibly get. The boys lived in bunks in the town where baseball was born and played three games daily with their closest friends. They had professional-looking uniforms and equipment, as well as Dunkin’ Donuts for breakfast nearly every morning. There was nothing more a 13-year-old obsessed with baseball could ever want.
The only glitch was because our baseball organization was so big, James competed against many of his closest friends to make it to the finals. The fans cheering for our rivals with noisemakers, blue pom poms, and speakers blaring “New York, New York” included families who had known James most of his life.
We had started as acquaintances, commiserating about toddler tantrums and lack of sleep, holding coffee cups at T-Ball early on Saturday mornings. The kids would swing wildly at a ball resting on the T and often miss.
The other baseball parents became my closest friends
As if in a dream, those same toddlers had become lanky adolescents hurtling toward adulthood who were truly capable of playing the game. As seasons passed on the bleachers, the boys’ parents became some of my closest friends.
For me, it was never about baseball. (To my husband’s astonishment, I had attended many games, not knowing the final score or whether my son got a hit.) It was about watching the boys mature, especially when they did badly. It was about watching my son strike out or walk several batters in a row but no longer throw his bat or cry.
And it was always about that rare feeling of complete comfort and trust I experienced surrounded by the other families. At the end of the final game in Cooperstown, one of the “Wolf Pack” was playing third base when James tried to steal home. Seeing he wouldn’t make it, he turned around, dove for third, but was tagged out to end the game for his team, Scrappers Red. (Even though my husband wasn’t there, he still disputes the call.)
For the boys, that moment was also the end of more than a decade spent playing together before heading to high school.
My son needed to be with his friends
While Scrappers Blue cheered and celebrated making it to the playoffs, one of the “Wolf Pack” went to comfort James, who was unsuccessfully fighting back tears in the bathroom. When he came out, I asked him if he needed anything, and he said, “only to be with his friends.”
Later, he asked to stay one more day to cheer them on in the playoffs.
So, we did.
And even though the tournament lasted for a week and James played in more than a dozen games, it was what happened after that final out that we will never forget.
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The Moment This Dad Realized Youth Sports Were Ending, Forever