When I was growing up, I dealt with my fair share of Little League losses. There were tears and tantrums and stubborn refusals to show my face in public again; failing was never easy. I remember being on the mound one time, relinquishing a walk-off hit and marching in silence to my parents’ minivan where I promptly broke down as if I’d just lost my best friend. I wager there were few kids who took losing as hard as I did back then, and even today I find it tough to walk away from anything without a win.
The funny thing about looking back on the agony of defeat is that while you might remember the defeat, you tend to forget about the agony. Those past losses are little more than blips of adversity on the radar of your very existence. They’ve brought you to this point in your life. They happened. They were. They’re nothing any longer.
The only reason I bring this up is because there are a group of kids from Auburn right now who just suffered a loss in the worst type of fashion. A last-inning breakdown. On television. In front of millions of viewers. Few of us will ever falter in that manner. And I can only imagine how devastated these young ballplayers were when the final out of their game was recorded and they were faced with the reality of an unfortunate verdict.
Let’s not undermine the emotions of kids. We were all kids once. While a baseball game might not seem like a big deal to those of us who stress over mortgage payments and rent checks and company presentations, I guarantee you it’s a big deal to this collection of 11-, 12-, and 13-year-olds from just down the road.
But let’s also appreciate, for a minute, the happy-go-lucky whimsy of being a kid. This will wear off. The sting will go away. Tomorrow will be a new day, with Pop Tarts to consume and friends to pick on and TV to be watched. The beauty of kid-dom is that you move on quickly. Hearts are merely nicked; never broken. The dread of never showing your face in public again is soon replaced by the desire to go outside and run around. In a few days, the Auburn All-Stars — who, lest we overlook their achievements, came thisclose to making it to the U.S. final of the Little League World Series — will be more concerned with mastering algebra, paying attention in biology, and wondering how they can get the attention of the girl sitting two desks over.
In a lost year for baseball in this city, the Auburn Little Leaguers gave us something to care about, if ever so briefly. Outside of their close friends and family members, we didn’t get to experience the joy of their season unfolding. We merely hopped on the bandwagon at the tail end of an incredible journey.
But for those of us who found good reason to spend our lunch hours sweating bullets over the fates of adolescents, who turned our attention to ESPN2 like only diehard WNBA fans truly can, and who cheered for a city we might not call home and kids we might not call our own, it was fun. It was fun.
In the past few months we’ve seen adults who play this same game fight their manager, whine to the press, and pout on television. It took a group of kids playing the game with dignity, with passion, and with unbridled success to give us reason to celebrate.
They might have lost, but they aren’t losers. They lifted our spirits and reminded us why we really, truly, honestly like baseball. It would be tough for anyone to call them anything but the obvious: winners.
Congratulations to the 2010 Auburn Little League All-Stars on a great season.