For many, including Yoda, this was the first real team they ever belonged to. It was the first time they felt a brotherhood built around a common goal. The goal was not necessarily to win, but to bring out the best in each other. That they did.
In five months, the Braves went from a team of loosely joined boys with little experience to a determined and undefeated west county championship team. It was a joy to see them grow. Yoda went from barely able to throw the ball 20 feet to hurling it to the cutoff man from outfield with palm stinging power. We watched a frozen infield turn into a quick response team. In nine and ten year old boy abilities, it was like watching the Keystone Cops turn into the Bolshoi Ballet.
We were all astounded at their progress, but most of all we were proud of the sportsmen they became. To a man, the Braves played honestly and with honor.
Their head coach, Joe Lewis (and yes that is his real name) made it clear from the very beginning that baseball is a game to be played using the best of themselves. Coach Lewis and the other three assistant coaches, Benton, Clack, and Thigpen always upheld themselves as the examples of what they wanted the kids to be. Each advancement made by a boy was celebrated proudly with a high-five, swooping hug or just a “guy” fist pound and each frustration handled with finesse as to bring out a betterment, not an embarrassment.
This true coaching led the boys to an undefeated title in their division of live pitch. And as such, they were slotted to play in the wider all county championship series. And play they did.
The first game of the series, they played on fire, but the flames were doused by a nasty thunderstorm. In the second inning the game was called due to weather. They would have to begin again the next day.
The boys were a bit dispirited the second day. Whether it was fatigue or their first exposure to the darker side of sportsmanship, I’m not sure. This was the first time the boys had experienced parents that openly mocked them, shouted insults and attempted to overrun the umpires’ calls. It was disheartening to see such behavior directed toward nine and ten year old children.
It took a lot not to return in kind, but instead we returned in kindness. We applauded every effort and every well-played inning. We drowned out the ugliness with cheers. Coach Lewis made sure that his boys would not be the ones to create animosity on the field or that his parents would not be thrown out during this championship series. We chose to show the boys the high road.
The boys ultimately lost the series, but not for trying. There were great hits, excellent pitches, throws and catches. There were a couple of amazing and clever home plate plays and even a tie-breaker extra inning, but it was not to be. The shameful tactics used by the other team won out. Cheaters do sometime prosper.
The boys were upset that they lost. It was hard to face their first losses this late in the game, but it wan’t until they cleared the field and gathered their equipment out of the dugout that the true meaning of the loss hit home. It was their last game together. For Yoda, it was as if he lost his best friend and he wasn’t the only one. Reports from other parents were the same.
Several of the boys are moving up to the next level, as is Coach Lewis. The Braves as we knew them will not return, but we are glad to have the experience we did. It could have been something so different. Coaches Lewis, Benton, Clack and Thigpen built a team based on camaraderie and pride in a game well-played; the boys’ reaction to the last game proved that.
We were fearful that long ago blustery try-out day in February. We had heard the horror stories of spiteful parents and coaches that screamed, but fortune smiled in our favor. We became part of the Braves and Coach Lewis, we got a piece of that pie.