Results tagged ‘ Little League ’

Dear Derek

Sept. 25, 2014

 

 

Dear Derek,

I know after yesterday’s loss you are disappointed. Elimination from the playoffs, to you, is probably the equivalent of failing a test you’ve studied extremely hard for. After the game you called it “rough” and “frustrating.” This will only be the third time in my life as a true navy blue Yankee fan you and your teammates won’t be playing autumn baseball in New York – but trust me, I’m not trying to make you feel bad or drudge up negative feelings.

On the contrary, I’m writing to give you the praise you rightfully deserve, and say thanks.

Cleveland+Indians+v+New+York+Yankees+OJrENI_Ekh-l

I can’t even really remember my first Yankee game. I was too young; the picture of it in my head is about as fuzzy as a 1950s analog TV. My parents brought me to Yankee Stadium when I was practically in diapers. My earliest memories were just looking out and seeing the Stadium’s green grass.

babyyankeespic

1995, I’ve always felt, is the season I became a true fan. At eight years old I was overcome with investment in the New York Yankees. ’95 also happened to be your first season; and not to mention the year before all the glorious seasons of the Yankee Dynasty.

Although 1995 ended in tragedy at the Kingdome, the feeling of winning the World Series at the end of 1996 almost made me completely forget ’95 altogether. Additionally in ’96 you were named A.L. Rookie of the Year unanimously, to which you modestly remarked to the New York Times, “Unanimously? I think I had some family helping me out with the voting.”

While I’m sure your family – who raised you so well – would’ve voted for you, you didn’t need any help in terms with the voting. Hence, why you beat out James Baldwin of the White Sox by 76 points; 140-64.

Thanks for helping teach me humility.

1998 was arguably the best season the Yanks have had in my lifetime, and ’98 also happened to be the year I started playing Little League in Beacon, N.Y. – a city some 70 or so miles north of New York City in the suburbs. Everything about Little League in Beacon was fashioned after the major leagues, from the team names down to the uniforms. God must’ve had it in for me, because the team I wound up on was the Yankees.

23572_337424959853_733774853_3330628_3912463_nbeaconllyankspicblog

Yeah, Tino Martinez was my favorite at the time, but believe me when I say you and him were basically tied for first.

 

Anyhow, it was my first year playing organized ball, and I had a rough go of it. If I wasn’t striking out I was grounding out. Once in awhile I drew a walk here or there. What’s more, I mostly stood out in left field idly; fly balls rarely ever coming my way.

Nonetheless, I learned how to play the position; how to back up throws to third base and how to hit the cutoff man. I never quit. I kept playing the game, even after wanting to give up after a slew of dreadful “0-for” days.

At last in one of the final games of the regular season, against the Indians, I hit a laser shot into centerfield for not only my first base hit, but my first RBI. When I reached base safely I heard the assistant coach say from the dugout,

“Look at that hit! That was like Derek Jeter, right there!”

That comment meant the world to me, at the same time giving me some much-needed encouragement. A season full of woes, I get one nice hit and all of a sudden it earns me a comparison to you. We beat the Indians, if you were wondering, and afterwards, the coaches gave me the game ball, which I still have encased.

firstgameball

It wasn’t until just now I realized you hit your first career home run against the big league Indians – perhaps a little baseball parallel between the two of us.

From that point on whether it was in Little League, Babe Ruth League at the high school level, in gym class or just playing ball with the kids in my neighborhood, I always wanted to emulate you; the way you have carried yourself: respectfully, gracefully and dignified – and not just on the field. I’ve never done drugs or smoked, because I know that’s not what Derek Jeter would do.

Thank you for leading by example.

jetercollageyyblogss

Throughout my years as a Yankee fan I’ve seen you play live in the pinstripes countless times. I haven’t taken those times for granted. Though with each passing year, it seemed, you got better and better as opposed to the majority of other players, whose numbers steadily decline as they grow older.

You truly are a fine bottle of wine, getting better with age, as the old adage goes.

jeterhomerjaysssss

On six separate occasions, you have hit home runs in my presence. Of those six games, the Yankees emerged winners in five of them. The only game I saw in-person, in which you hit a home run and the Yanks lost, was against the Mets on June 29, 2002.

But hey, in the 2000 World/Subway Series – which you were an integral part of winning – you gave me and every other Yankee fan bragging rights forever more in beating the Mets in front of the world on baseball’s grandest stage.

Thanks for those bragging rights.

In May of 2010 I graduated from Mercy College in New York with a degree in journalism. It took a lot of hard work to earn that diploma. You’ve preached your entire career about how hard work pays off, and when I walked across the stage and was handed my degree, I finally understood what you meant.

You were right all along. Thanks for beating the hard work concept into my brain.

A couple months after graduation, in July ’10, I had the chance to interview Brian Sweeney, a relief pitcher who (like me) is a Mercy College alumnus. At the time he was pitching for the Seattle Mariners. Sweeney had faced you at the big ballpark in the Bronx just a few weeks prior to my chat with him. He, an opponent, spoke highly of you, saying,

“Obviously Jeter is one of the most celebrated ballplayers on the Yankees. He was a nice challenge.”

scorevaewew1

However, Sweeney did add, “I wish he had gotten into the box a little faster. Maybe he was trying to slow me down? It could just be his routine.”

A t-shirt should be made: “Derek Jeter: frustrating opposing pitchers since ’95.”

Earlier this year, on May 12 to be exact, I covered an event hosted by fellow New York sports captain Eli Manning. The Giants’ quarterback and two-time Super Bowl MVP does wonderful work with charity, namely Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Guiding Eyes’ annual spring tee-off event came just a week after Eli and his brother Peyton visited you at Yankee Stadium.

Eli had nothing but great things to say about you.

It is my hope that one day I am able to interview you, Derek. Even if I’m one of 100 reporters standing in a media scrum and I only get to ask you one question. I’d gladly welcome a funny response to a question from you, as you’ve been able to mix in some humor with the press all your life.

If I ever get that interview or that chance to ask you a question in a scrum, thank you in advance.

Tonight, Derek, you leave us – but only in the flesh. Everything you’ve done in New York, for New York, and for the fans will never be forgotten. In spirit, you’ll be with us for all of time. I wish you luck in starting your family and hope you enjoy your life after baseball. You have more than earned your days to sit back, take in the sweet aroma of the roses, and bask in the fruits of your labor.

100_1131

Hopefully in five years, when you’re ticketed for permanent enshrinement in Cooperstown, I’ll be covering the joyous occasion and I’ll see you there.

Until then, for all the wonderful memories, Derek – thank you.

Sincerely,

A.J. Martelli “Yankee Yapping”

Little Big Leaguer

The Yankees made it two in a row tonight, winning a decisive 8-3 game against the Royals to take the series two games to one. The Bombers received their second straight brilliant outing from the returning Andy Pettitte, who walked one and struck out eight over seven innings of work. The crafty lefty only made two mistakes, solo homers served up to Billy Butler and Mitch Maier.

Other than those two hiccups, Pettitte twirled a gem. (Stands, applauds)

The Yanks finally saw some production out of Alex Rodriguez, who hadn’t homered since May 6. Tonight Rodriguez smacked two long home runs to help push himself out of his slump. Curtis Granderson also homered, his 14th round-tripper of the year and his first in a week.

The Yanks roughed up Kansas City starter Will Smith, who if you follow me on Twitter or the Yankee Yapping Facebook page, was the butt of every “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” obscure reference tonight. 

It’s funny how after being read the “Yankee Yapping Riot Act” the bats came alive. The trick for the Yanks will be to keep those bats alive and kicking when they begin their series on the west coast Friday night against the 22-23 Oakland Athletics.

While it’s nice to see the Yanks slowly but surely come out of their funk, something caught my attention over the weekend that I didn’t get a chance to write about, as reporting about the High School sports scene here in the New York suburbs for my newspaper is occupying a lot of my time these days.

This past weekend the Yankees played the Reds, losing their first interleague series of the year, 2-1. Cincinnati has a third baseman by the name of Todd Frazier, who played in the Little League World Series in 1998 – and won.

Frazier, a New Jersey native, was on the Toms Rivers squad that beat Japan in the ’98 LLWS, and once they mentioned that series it was almost as if a spark had gone off in my head. I actually remember that Little League World Series, all because of one memory.

1998 was the first year I played Little League, and at the end of the season each Little Leaguer in the country was issued a newsletter. In the newsletter was an article about the Toms Rivers team winning the LLWS; in fact I vividly remember the picture that came with the article of the team celebrating and the Little Leaguers walking out of South Williamsport, PA with the trophy.

There were also interviews in the newsletter with Derek Jeter and Pettitte – and they talked about their experiences in Little League, which was cool to read about. I recall reading about how Pettitte was an opponent of Little League pitchers throwing curveballs, for fear of ruining their arms at a young age.

Whenever someone mentions Little League, I get this warm, fuzzy, nostalgic feeling inside; it brings back a flood of memories. The Little League I played in was located in Beacon, NY, and I still feel to this day we had one of the best programs in our area at that time.

Our teams were named and fashioned after actual MLB teams: there were the Mets, the Red Sox, the Indians, the Giants, the Dodgers, the Pirates, the Cardinals, the Orioles (although the second year I played they became the Blue Jays), and the Athletics, among others.

As fate would have it, I wound up on the Yankees. Believe it or not, this was my uniform…

Little League was a struggle at first, but I learned as I went along that hard work pays off. Basically the entire first season I played, I only reached base if I walked. I also had to watch each one of my teammates receive the game ball after every game we won for their efforts, always having the feeling I would never be given the game ball because I struggled so mightily.

It was enough to get down on myself and get dejected. But I didn’t quit. I kept trying.

Gradually my swing got a little better; I started making contact. Eventually I recorded my first base hit and first RBI off the Indians, a sharp line drive single to center field which drove in a runner from third.

After the game my coaches awarded me the game ball; my first hit and my first RBI. It felt incredibly good to finally do something positive offensively and even better to be recognized for it. I still have the ball and I will probably hold onto it forever.

The second year I played I was given the game ball after a win over the Dodgers. I drove in what turned out to be the winning run by laying down a bunt, and reaching second base on the throw. Because of my hustle I got the ball – and yes, I kept that one, too.

My Little League years are a cherished time in my life; they were sweet and innocent. I was just a kid who loved baseball, I got to play, and even enjoyed a little bit of success. Obviously not to the degree that Frazier did, but it doesn’t matter. Only a small amount of Little Leaguers do get to enjoy success at the Major League level.

To all the Little Leaguers playing out there this season: my message is to enjoy yourselves. I hope you love taking the field day after day as much as I did when I played.

If you were to ask me to describe my Little League experience in one word, it would “fun.” And that’s what baseball is supposed to be.

ESPN’s E:60 Made Me Cry

 

New season of E:60 started tonight

In college I learned a lot about feature stories. If you are not familiar with them or if you are unfamiliar with the journalistic term, feature stories are basically a break from the hard news; a look at people’s lives without the craziness of what is happening at that moment. They can be interesting, unique, and moving, if written or conveyed properly.

Tonight ESPN’s series E:60 began its new season. The show airs every Tuesday night and it is basically a program about feature stories; a break from SportsCenter and the game recaps with a focus on different athletes and their personal triumphs and tragedies.

On tonight’s season premiere, my eyes were opened – and eventually swelled. ESPN did an investigative and gripping piece on Christina-Taylor Green, the 9 year-old girl who was killed in Tucson, AZ on Jan. 8 of this year.

I didn’t realize until tonight that Christina was the granddaughter of Dallas Green, manager of the Yankees in 1989. Green also managed the Philadelphia Phillies to their first World Series in 1980.


Christina;s grandpa is Dallas Green, a former Yankee skipper 

Christina was born on Sept. 11, 2001, one of the worst days in American history. Her parents said she was a “glimmer of hope” in the wake of such tragedy; out of the worst day in America’s history came their sparkling little girl.

Christina enjoyed baseball and she was very close with her Little League teammates. I suppose she had to be, considering her background. There was only one other girl on her team, 8 year-old Mae Sinclair. Even as a girl, she had the respect of all her male teammates, and she never thought of herself of as a female ballplayer – just a ballplayer.

Poor thing. God bless her.

When she died, at the hand of a sick gunman who was looking to assassinate Senator Gabrielle Giffords, everyone around her seemed to be impacted in such a major way. Although I am not a parent myself, I cannot imagine how difficult it would be to lose a child at such a young age. Her grandfather seemed devastated and heartbroken while her young teammates expressed how sad they were, not to be playing with her this year.

“It feels good to be playing baseball again, but without her it’s a little bit lonely,” remarked one of her teammates.

Another said, “I think that it’s just sad that she’s not here anymore.”

The sincerity in the eyes of these young ballplayers was just overwhelming. I think the sadness in their eyes is what turned my eyes into Niagra Falls.

ESPN takes you the viewer through the whole story, as emotionally draining as it is. The most breathtaking part of the whole story is the end. They show how an angel, fashioned out of steel from the World Trade Center, now sits behind the field Christina once played on – as well as how that field is now named after her.

She is an angel now.

There have not been many programs or movies that I have seen that have driven me to tears. This story did, and more importantly, it taught me a lesson. One person, no matter how small, can make a world of difference in someone’s life. Christina’s personality seemed to touch so many people around her and I think it lives on through her legacy.

I also feel I learned that no matter how bad I think I have it, things can be worse. A young lady, who had such a zest for life and possessed such a positive attitude, is now gone. And not only is she gone, her loving family is without her and I know that I shouldn’t take my life for granted because there are other people who valued their life and aren’t here anymore.

If you would like to be moved and watch Christina’s story, click here.

Also, be sure to catch E:60 every Tuesday night at 7:00 on ESPN. You will see some wonderfully compiled feature stories and some top-notch reporting. I don’t agree with some of what ESPN has to say, but trust me, this show is a must-see for any sports fan.


Good reporting, guys.

My Journey Through Baseball

 

 

It snowed. On the first day of spring. Come on, man!

“I’m more entranced  than the average fan…I used to play, you see, and I know I still can.” – Robert DeNiro in The Fan (1996)

Although you wouldn’t know it here in New York, today is the first day of spring. The reason you wouldn’t know it: because it snowed this morning and it feels as though winter is giving us one last jolt of cold to remember it by.

I woke up this morning and the first thought that came to my mind was, “Wow. I cannot believe that less than 24 hours ago I was wearing shorts and playing baseball.”

It was hard to believe, even though it happened. Yesterday I went to the park with my friends and we played baseball. It was such a nice day that we couldn’t pass up the chance to play our favorite game.

 

Yesterday me and buddy Brian played baseball at the park.

As we were playing catch and batting the ball around, we found ourselves remembering all the times we played organized baseball for the towns we lived in. We recalled what jersey numbers we had, the games we excelled in, and what it was like to play baseball in a coordinated environment.

I figured I would share a little bit of my journey through baseball, and sports in general; the years I played, the triumphs I enjoyed, the tragedies I endured, and how to this day I still love to go outside when the spring comes and play baseball with my friends.

Before I even started my baseball career, I played soccer and basketball – two sports that in this day and I age I do not particularly care for. When I was young I played soccer in the Peewee League. I scored one goal the whole time I played – and it was in a scrimmage.

 

Why I played soccer, I'll never know.

To this day I’m not sure why I picked up soccer at such a young age. I suppose I needed to run around and drain away some of my pent-up energy, but other than that, I can’t think of a reason why I played it.

When I stopped playing soccer I started CYO Basketball. I played for four years and was on different intramural teams each season. The first year I played I was forced to sit out; I was on the bench the entire season with a broken wrist. It was the worst feeling in the world. I broke my wrist on the same day of my first ever basketball practice.

Ironically enough, my broken wrist had nothing to do with basketball. I fell off a bed.

The second year I played, my team was very good. We won every single game with the exception of one, nearly going undefeated for the season. The problem was, it was intramural CYO – there was no playoff system or trophy presentation at the end of the year. My team was the best, yet we had no concrete evidence to show for it.

I can remember the final year I played basketball, though I’d like to forget it. From being on the best team I went to the absolute worst team. The squad I was on was ridiculous; I have no problem admitting that. We lost every single game we played because most of the kids on the team were ball-hogs and had no clue how to play basketball. I think my ears still hurt from the amount of times the refs blew their whistles calling fouls on my team.

 

CYO for four years.

Come to think of it, my team lost a game that season by a score of 69-16. That’s how bad it was.

After that beating, I knew it was time to give up basketball and concentrate on the best sport in the world: baseball. In February of 1998 I signed up to play Rookie Ball – the level right below Little League.

A few days later my family got a call saying I was too old for Rookie League. I was already 10 years old and by the time the season began I would be 11, meaning if I wanted to play, I had to play Little League. They put me on a team and believe it or not, my team was the Yankees. In the town of Beacon where I played, each team was given the name of a Major League Team.

There were the Yankees, the Red Sox, the Giants, the Indians, the Dodgers…you get the idea. It was pretty cool. The uniforms were also great: we were given jerseys that boasted the logos of each team you were on. I was on the Yankees, and my uniform looked like this…

 

Little League days...

I was given number 19 to wear, which at the time was being worn by Luis Sojo. But looking back, some of the best Yankees have worn number 19. Dave Righetti, Robin Ventura, Al Leiter, and Aaron Boone (among others) have worn it; 19 is a pretty solid number in Yankee lore.

 

No. 19

My team was coming off a strong season; in fact, the year before they had won the town’s Little League Championship. It was an incredible feeling walking in the Opening Day Parade with them and being introduced as a defending champion – although I did realize I had nothing to do with winning the championship and I was new.


I walked with my team in the Opening Day parade. They were defending champions.Thankfully my teammates weren’t mean to me and didn’t try to make me feel as if I didn’t belong there. They welcomed me to the team with open arms, although I think they knew in their minds I wasn’t going to be very good, considering it was my first year playing.

Those thoughts were well-founded. I wasn’t good at the beginning.

In my first year, I drew a few walks here and there, but I couldn’t buy a hit. I played left field and didn’t see a lot of game action. Despite taking my first year bumps, we kept winning. My Yankee team was undefeated for quite some time, before the Orioles finally stopped our winning streak halfway through the year.

On one of the last days of the season I finally got my moment to shine. I stood in the batter’s box, saw the pitch coming, and swung the bat, cracking a line drive base hit to centerfield. My hit drove in a run for my first career RBI and we went on to beat the Indians that day. I stood on first base and looked over to the dugout. I smiled, looking at my whole team standing up and clapping for me.

After each game, the coach on the winning team awarded the game ball to the standout player on the team. It was almost like winning the “Chevy Player of the Game” award, if you will.

My coach tossed me the game ball and said, “Congratulations on your first hit and your first RBI.”

 

My first hit & my first RBI.

I was speechless. All season long I had watched the other players on my team receive the game ball and the honor went to me. It was an unbelievable feeling and one I’ll always remember.

The second year I played Little League I was a lot more comfortable. I knew what to expect and I had more than one hit all year. The first game of the season, we played the Mets. I struck out in my first at-bat and my coach had asked me if I was comfortable bunting before I stepped up to the plate. I told him I wanted to swing away, and he obliged.

My next at-bat however, he didn’t ask me if I wanted to bunt. He told me I had to.

I laid down a beauty and reached safely to drive in a run. That bunt almost set the pace for the rest of the season, and I went on to have a pretty good year. I remember laying down a lot more bunts after that game and my coach once called me “the best bunter on the team.”

That was evidenced when we played the Dodgers, and I once again laid down a perfect bunt. Pitching was a young man named Steve, who was in my class. During the day he and I talked a lot of smack about who was going to win, especially since he was pitching.

My bunt drove in a run and I reached second on an error. We won the game and for the second time I was awarded the game ball. Again, it was a great feeling to receive the honor and afterward there were no hard feelings between me and Steve. I think he actually congratulated me the next day.


My second game ball.Little League was quite an experience and I will not forget it. But it was just the beginning of my journey through baseball and the game afforded me even better memories as I continued to play at the next level.

I was in eighth grade when I started to play in the Babe Ruth League. The first day of practice was unreal. The field was so much bigger than the Little League field, most noticeably the outfield dimensions. Right and left field were 285 feet while dead-center was 315 feet – a foot longer than right field at Yankee Stadium.

Another change was the team names. No more MLB team names, but instead our teams were sponsored by the local clubs and organizations. My team was sponsored by the Knights of Columbus and our team name was K of C.

 

K of C

I was only in eighth grade but played against high school kids. I knew that I was going to have to start from scratch again and I probably wasn’t going to be very good, much like how I was in my first year of Little League. However, the town put all us Babe Ruth rookies on a travel team as well our regular teams, just so we could get some more at-bats and fine-tune our fielding.

Suffice it to say, I had a better first year playing on the travel team than I did on K of C, the Babe Ruth team. On my travel team, I had a few key hits and played against another friend from school. Once again my team won that game, 7-6. I even had a hit that went right over my friend’s head; a bloop single that landed in between the right fielder and my friend who was manning second base.

Sorry Vito.

The biggest change going from Little League to Babe Ruth was my position. The whole time I spent in Little League, I was an outfielder. I played mostly left field, but was tossed around quite a bit and saw time in right field and center field.

The first game I played at the Babe Ruth level, my coach announced my name and told me I was starting at second base. I had never been more confused – and scared – in my life. I had never played the infield before, and I was worried I was going to make a million mistakes.

 

I played second base my first year in Babe Ruth

I surprised myself by not performing poorly. I made a few defensive stops and before long I became comfortable at second, although I did see a lot of time in right field throughout the rest of the season. My travel team ended the year with a good record, but my K of C team had a rough year. We finished the season in fifth place out of sixth.

 The second year I played was a different story.

I knew from the first day of practice that there was something different about our team. We went into these practices and performed as if we were playing in actual games. We were steadier, a little bit younger because we had some Little Leaguers coming in, and we wanted to erase finishing fifth the year before.

All in all, we were hungry.

There were so many defining moments that stand out to me in that season, but two come to mind. The first was painful, at least for me. We were playing the Lions, a team sponsored by (you guessed it) the local Lions Club. They had a very powerful left-handed hitter, who just so happened to also pitch and was one of the hardest throwing hurlers in the league that season.

He came up to bat with two outs in the fifth inning and we only held a small, 3-2 lead.

In right field, my coach told me to shade over toward the foul line. I knew that as a lefty, if he had gotten around on a pitch, it was coming to me. He had taken the first two pitches for balls one and two, but on the third pitch he saw, he swung and delivered a high fly ball…that was going over my head.

I turned around and immediately started to run. Frantically, I raced toward the right field wall as my hat flew off my head. I stuck out my glove and by some act of God, the ball landed in its webbing. Three outs with the lead intact. The parents and supporters of my team went nuts from the bleachers after I made the catch.

It was almost reminiscent of Willie Mays in the 1954 World Series. It was beautiful.

 

My catch was like Mays's catch.

As fate would have it, after my web gem, I was due up first in the next half-inning. Facing the guy whom I had just robbed of an extra base hit, I walked up to the plate. He threw a fastball that came in so fast, I didn’t have a fraction of a second to react – and the ball plastered me, right on the outside of my left thigh.

I fell to the ground in such pain that, for a moment, I didn’t know where I was.

The coaches ran out and helped me get to my feet. I walked around behind home plate for a couple of minutes before my coach asked me if I wanted to stay in the game. Even though my leg was aching in excruciating pain, I refused to let him beat me. I made up my mind that I wasn’t leaving the game and I chose to stay in, bad wheel and all.

We wound up winning the game 3-2 and it was one of the better games I remember playing, just because of my attitude. Not the fact that I got hit or the fact that I made an outstanding defensive play, but for the fact that I stayed in the game and didn’t allow myself to be bullied.

To this day, I am convinced he beaned me on purpose. He may have won that little battle, but I feel I won the war. Not only did my team win, but I stayed in the game.

The second moment that stood out came later in the season. We were playing BPBA (Beacon Police Benevolent Association) and at that point we were scuffling a bit. We were down early in the game and for some reason that day, my coach decided to plug me into the number three hole in the lineup. In the fourth hole we had a tall, powerful right-handed hitter named Brian; a kid capable of hitting the ball out of the cavernous ballpark.

In the fourth inning I led off with a single. I remember checking the defense and every single outfielder backed up – they knew what kind of power he possessed.

Brian swung and hammered the ball to the deepest part of the park: centerfield. I came off first base a little bit, took a few steps back in case the ball was going to be caught, and then checked the center fielder. He looked up and watched the ball sail out of the park for a two-run home run, right over the 315′ sign.

I rounded the bases with a smile on my face; with joy in my heart. I knew that I was never going to hit a home run at this field, and this was the next best thing: being on base when my teammate hit one. The whole team waited for us at home plate and high-fived us after we crossed the plate.

 

I was on base when a homer was hit.

Brian whacked the top of my helmet as we walked back to the dugout.

“Good job kid,” he said to me. “Thanks for that single. Because of that it was a two-run homer!”

I looked up at him, smiled, and simply replied, “No problem.”

We went on to win that game big, 14-3. From there we got hot and went on a winning streak. We finished the season with a record of 12-6 and were headed to the playoffs. No champagne celebration for us, but we were very happy and satisfied with getting there. We also knew that as well as we had played during the season, it meant nothing if we didn’t win the championship.

The playoffs were a four-team tournament: single elimination in the first round, and best two out of three in the championship series. We had a huge challenge in front of us, playing the Lions in the first round. We had faced them four times during the regular season and split the series, 2-2. This was the rubber game; the chance to show once and for all which team was better.

Not to mention the winner had a one-way ticket the championship series.

 

We made the playoffs the years after we finished 5th

My team was not fazed by pressure. We obviously didn’t feel it because we pounded out 16 hits and went on to win the game 10-0. We were going to the championship series and for the first time in my baseball career, I would know what it felt like to play in a series for all the marbles.

I couldn’t help but think of my Little League days when we won the first round game. I remembered how I was recognized as a champion, even though I hadn’t earned it. This was my chance to earn it.

Unfortunately for K of C, the magic vanished.

We played a team named Palisi in the finals, a squad named after one of the local auto body shops. They were the only team that we lost a series to during the regular season, as they edged us, three games to one.

In Game One, they pounded every mistake we made. They went up 6-0 in the first inning and never looked back. They let us know that, in no uncertain terms, they were not going to lay down for us. After the game we obviously felt discouraged but knew we needed to win the next game in order to stay alive and push the series to a deciding Game Three.

We lost Game Two. But it wasn’t nearly as lopsided as Game One, as we were only beaten by a score of 6-2. We faced another power pitcher; a flame-throwing righty named Mark who was tall and built like Phil Hughes. In my only at-bat in Game Two, I drew a walk to lead off the fifth inning. Mark struck out the next three batters and the score remained 6-1.

In the sixth inning Brian came up and led off with a solo home run to bring it within four, 6-2. We all went out to greet him as he came to the plate, but our spirits just weren’t there; our enthusiasm had worn off. We tried to stay as positive as we could, but there was nothing that could be done. We lost.

After it was over, I watched from the dugout as Palisi celebrated. Crushed, I saw them get their picture taken for the local newspapers. My coach sat us down on the bench and told us not to feel bad about anything; he told us that from day one he loved coaching us and that we made a huge stride, coming from a fifth place finish to a second place finish.

I felt a little better when I found out that, despite our loss, we were getting rewarded for finishing second. We were going to receive the runner-up trophy and we were going to be a part of the trophy presentation ceremony.


We won 2nd place. 
  

“Ladies and gentlemen, your 2001 runner-up, K of C!”

Standing at the edge of the dugout, my name was announced first.

“A.J. Martelli!”

I jogged out to the area behind home plate and I was given my trophy. I shook my coach’s hand as he looked at me. With a reluctant smile he said, “Hell of a season, pal.”    

The trophy presentation made me feel a lot better. It’s almost as if I forgot we had lost. It didn’t feel like a loss when I left the ballpark that day. I felt as though I had been a part of something special and I was honored to play with such a dedicated and hard-working group of players.

To this day I look back on that season and wish I could live through it again.

The final year I played organized baseball was bittersweet. I saw a good amount of game action, especially at second base, being that it was my final year and I was a team veteran. We had a decent year and again we made the playoffs.

But it was BPBA’s turn to feel what we felt; their opportunity to play in the championship series. They beat us in the single elimination first round game and I watched them celebrate as my Babe Ruth career came to a close.

But it wasn’t exactly over just yet.

After that loss I had one more game: an end-of-the-year battle between the departing veterans and the coaches. The league designed this so that all the players who were leaving could have one last game and go out in a good way.


Went out nicely. 

Against the coaches I had a single, a walk, a stolen base, and two runs scored. We wound up losing count of the score, because we were beating them by such a wide margin. All in all, it was a fun night but I also understood that I would be closing a chapter in my life.

While I was playing in the Babe Ruth League, I wanted to try out for my high school team. In my first year in high school, I wanted to make the freshman baseball team and eventually work my way up to the junior varsity team, and if I was lucky, make the varsity team in the ensuing years as an upperclassman.

I attended a few open gyms during the off-season and got to know a lot of the players. The open gyms were intense; a lot of running, suicides, long toss, and fast-pitch batting practice. But I knew that, if nothing else, the workouts would prepare me for the Babe Ruth season.

Lady Luck was not on my side as a high school freshman, though. I struggled both academically and personally throughout the year and as a result I was placed on academic probation, prohibiting me from trying out for the freshman baseball team. I knew that if I couldn’t play in my freshman year, I probably wouldn’t be able to play at all for my high school, at least not without enormous competition for a roster spot.

So in a nutshell, although I played in the Babe Ruth League for two years while I was in high school, I never did get to play for my high school’s team.

And yes, I regret it. Had I had an easier time in my freshman year, and maybe pushed myself a little harder academically, I have no doubt in my mind I could have played for my high school and kept my baseball career alive.

I am not saying I would have continued to play in college, but it could have happened for me. I would have loved to go through the experience of facing other schools and possibly winning a few more trophies.

These days it’s nice to just go to the park on a spring day and put on my baseball glove. And when I do, I think about that base hit on the Beacon Little League Field that drove in a run for my first RBI.

I think about all those bunts I laid down in my second year of Little League.

I think about how special I felt when I was awarded the game ball.

I think about how I felt looking at the Babe Ruth Field for the first time.

I think about that Willie Mays-like catch I made to rob the best player in the league of extra bases – and how he exacted his revenge on me, and how I refused to leave the game when I was hurt.

I think about that home run Brian hit, and how awesome it felt to round the bases with him.

I think about the championship series, and how good I felt, even though we lost.

I think about the trophy presentation and how it felt to have my name called.

I think about how fun the game against the coaches was.

I think about how I wish I had played for my high school, and even though I didn’t, how fun the open gyms were.

I think about all these things…and wish I can have them back.


I love this game. Always have, always will.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 25 other followers