Dogs sleeping with cats
Girls playing baseball
Me agreeing with the Pod
It’s a strange world.
Oh sweet Jesus. I actually agree with the Thing from the Pod Lagoon on the Bad News Bears remake:
There’s a remake of the 1976 movie “Bad News Bears” opening tomorrow. This may be the most wholly unnecessary remake in the history of the planet. I recently saw the original, and what’s so startling — and wonderful — about it is that it could practically be released today with not a word changed and not be in the least dated. Only the cars would suggest the original 70s setting, and even those might be explicable given the California setting. Only the fact that there’s a mild point made of the team’s female pitcher — who immediately earns respect by throwing at somebody’s head — suggests we are not yet in full Title IX territory. Every theme in the movie, down to the excessively involved parents, the excessive importance attached to little league sports and the desultory pre-teen attitudes of the excessively sophisticated youngsters who don’t even know what they’re cursing about, remains a vivid and potent issue today. And though Billy Bob Thornton is a very good actor, there is no way on earth he can match the shambling Walter Matthau as a middle-aged drunken former pitcher who finds purpose in his coaching until he just takes it too far.
Oddly enough, as I read his review and as I write this, my daughter and her friends are upstairs watching the original. Sure there are some minor things to quibble about in the original, but then it was never meant to be Rules of the Game.
Having spent seven years toiling in Little League hell, there is so much that is accurate in TBNB. It seems like Little League exists solely to take all of the joy out of baseball for both kids and parents alike. I was on the Little League board for six of those years in various capacities all leading up to being league president, which I wouldn’t wish on anyone. From t-ball dads who can’t understand why five year-olds shouldn’t play 24 games in twelve weeks to mothers calling at night because the coach hates little (Austin, Cody, Aspen, Garfunkel…pick one) and won’t let him pitch in games, when I’ve seen the kid and he can barely make the throw from second to first. Then there were the parents who would drop the kids off at practice and practically peel out of the parking lot so that they can go to the mall for a few hours because they had a free babysitter and then would they show up late to pick the poor kid up while we waited in the parking lot in the gloaming (a word only used with baseball).
Even worse than the meddling overbearing gonna-make-a-star-out-of-my-boy types were the ones who didn’t even show up to watch. I had no problem with the parents who had to work or, with quite a few of my kids, the ones whose dads were in the navy and were out to sea. But to see a kid get dropped off before the game and then watch that car disappear only to show up a couple of hours later used to break my heart. For an eight year-old to slap a single through the hole or make their very first catch in the outfield (no small feat at eight) and not have a mom or dad there to see it is, in my opinion, far worse than missing their very first steps. Because that small achievement is a moment that should be shared by both a proud child and a prouder parent.
The object of Little League should be to teach fundamental skills and then just throw the kids out on the field and let them figure out the rest. If someone thinks he should pitch and he can’t, the other kids will disabuse him of that notion in that special kid way (“You can’t pitch.” “Why not?” “Because you suck.”)
As has been noted here before, our family loves baseball. A lot. Up until Casey was born we were under the impression that she was going to be a he. In fact her name was going to be Brooks Robinson tbogg. You can look it up. As it is, she ended up with Casey (after Casey Stengel) via her real name: Cassandra. And although she was not born a Penis-American, there was never any doubt that she was going to play some baseball in her life and that no one would ever say that she “threw like a girl”. At five she was one of about thirteen girls in the league. By the time she hit minors she was one of two, the others having moved on to softball. It took until she was about nine and was pitching regularly before dads stopped asking why she was playing baseball, to which my wife had previously answered, “Because she can.”
After a brief foray in softball about which the less said the better, Casey moved over to Pony League which is to Little League what the NFL is to Arena Ball. Pony League is serious metal spikes, secondary lead, brush’em back baseball. Here Casey was the only girl amongst three hundred players and there hadn’t been a girl in the league for several years. On the first day of tryouts Casey and I got there early because she was nervous. We used that time to throw and she eventually went into the bullpen and threw off of the mound. One of the team managers who was also there early walked over and asked where she had played before and some other general questions while I caught her. When we were done, he said, “Do me a favor. When they have pitcher tryouts, don’t pitch her.” I agreed, although I can’t say exactly why.
Casey then proceeded to have mediocre tryout.
Legend has it that, at the player draft, Andy (the manager I had spoken to), used a draft pick in the pitchers draft saying, “I’ll take the girl. I know her dad.” This is what’s known as ‘sandbagging’. He’d managed to snag a lefthander to go with two other lefties he already had.
To say that Casey struggled at the plate that season would be an understatement. The kids in Pony threw harder, had decent curves, and weren’t afraid to pitch inside to her like they were in Little League where nobody wanted to hurt the girl. She flirted with the Mendoza line all season and only stayed in the regular lineup as a pitcher and the starting first baseman (because she could get down low and pick it easily). We pretty much realized that it was the end of the line as far as baseball went. The boys were getting bigger and stronger and club soccer travel was becoming more demanding.
It was a good season and after eight years of playing ball she finally played on a championship team. In the championship game she managed to slap one of those singles through the hole past the second baseman with the bases loaded to drive in two runs. It was her only clutch hit of the season. When the final out was recorded with two on and her team leading 5-3, Casey was in the bullpen warming up, meaning it wasn’t a fairy tale ending but it was close enough for baseball and I couldn’t have been prouder of her for sticking it out.
And that was it…except for this:
Jump ahead four years. Casey and I are at a Padres/Indians game. Down 3-0 in the third inning, San Diego’s Brian Giles leads off and hits a shot down the right field line. Giles shoots up the line and rounds first about half way, but then retreats. I mention to Casey that I was surprised that Giles didn’t try and take second base and she glanced at me and said, “Well you don’t want to make the first or third out trying to get an extra base when you’re behind”…and then she went back to her nachos.
And here I thought I couldn’t be any prouder of her.