Readers of my blog might think that I am inclined to dwell on the negative. After all, how could I take a magical Little League season -- a season of skills-based instruction and exemplary sportsmanship -- and write only about the turmoil caused by mentally deficient coaches? How could I experience the unending joy of winning, winning, winning, and focus on those little speed-bumps in our path to total league domination? How could I possibly think ill thoughts about anything when the boys are on an unprecedented tear through the coach pitch division?
I apologize if my baseball posts have reflected anything but optimism and positivity. I am nothing if not optimistic and positive about the thrill of Little League. And it pains me as much as all of you that gigantic Neanderthal moron bastards get in the way of an old fashion baseball season. So in an effort to restore your faith (and mine) in that hallowed institution that is Little League, let me recount for you our second to last game of the season -- Mr. Nice Guy vs. Mr. Nice Guy.
As with the famed RNG -- "Rule Nazi Game" for the uninitiated -- in advance of playing we received a scouting report on the Mets (name unchanged to protect the deserving). The scouting report read something like "I know the Mets' coach and he is a fantastic guy. It will be great. We will all have fun. The boys will learn a lot. The parents will cheer respectfully. The coaches will shake our hands vigorously at the end of the game. No one will threaten and/or harass us as we coach third base. Nothing to worry about here, people. Just a great example of first and second graders enjoying the game of baseball . . . . Oh yeah, and our boys should have no problem crushing them. Play ball."
I have known the Mets' coach for a long time. Let's call him Coach Matt (at least in part because his name is Matt). Coach Matt is arguably the nicest, most supportive, fantastically energetic Little League coach there is. He absolutely loves the game of baseball and his love of the game is infectious. He is the personification of Little League coaching done right. He is, for all intents and purposes, Mr. Little League. The only coach I have ever met who holds a candle to Coach Matt is our head coach, Coach Jordan (I have called him Coach Jordan because: 1) it has a nice ring to it, 2) it grows tiresome to keep on writing "our head coach" or "our awesome head coach" over and over again; and 3) because his mother spent a lot of time agonizing over what to call him before picking Jordan, so who am I to question?). If Coach Matt is Mr. Baseball then Coach Jordan is Mr. Hot Dogs and Mr. Apple Pie (no physique-bashing intended). These guys take their hats off during the singing of the national anthem and they even know the words. No mumbling "and the rockets red blare, the bombs burst in despair, gave proof to the sight that our that our flag had no hair . . . ." Matt and Jordan are the real McCoy.
As we prepared for the battle of the nice guys, Coach Matt came over to say hello and shake our hands. He exuded a sort of genuine pleasantness one can only pull off if he is either a world class con man or, indeed, genuinely pleasant. I tried hard to hang with these extraordinarily nice guys, yet I exuded a sort of smarmy fakeness one can only pull off if he is either a third rate con man or, indeed, smarmy and fake. After pleasantries were exchanged and I was outed for the louse that I truly am, we got on with the game.
The battle of the nice guys is nearly as disorienting as the battle of the Rule Nazis. When Rule Nazis play, you know their gambit. They go out of their way to seek advantage at any cost. With extreme nice guys, the opposite is true. They go out of their way to not even give the appearance of seeking advantage. They go out of their way to gain disadvantage as a badge of good sportsmanship.
"Your player was safe."
"I really couldn't see -- let's call him out."
"But tie goes to the runner so let's call him safe."
"True but given that my batter threw his bat, let's call him out."
"But it was only the first time . . . we'll just give him a warning."
"No, I'm pretty sure he threw the bat last at bat as well so he's definitely out."
"I'm willing to give him a second warning . . . that's fine with me."
And so it goes again and again. Coach Matt extending the olive branch. Coach Jordan extending the olive tree. Coach Matt extending the olive grove. You get the picture.
It reminds me a bit of when I first moved back to California from New York. In New York, the failure to drive aggressively is tantamount to stepping to the back of the line. If you are not aggressive, you will literally never be able to merge onto a freeway. You will never be able to get a parking space at the mall. You will never get out of your driveway. In contrast, aggressive driving in California is a bit like farting at the dinner table -- it is an inexcusable breach of etiquette. Only in California could you have so darn many four way stops without constant multi-car pile ups. Drivers calmly wait their turn to go. No accidents. No problem.
When I first got back to California from New York, four way stops were like the sample tray at grocery store -- mine for the taking. Everyone would hem and haw about who would go next and I would just go. It was a bonanza. No waiting, just driving. To the New Yorker, the Californian four way stops is the equivalent of a yield. Sure, Californians would think I was rude for jumping ahead in the stop sign pecking order, but what did I care? I was coming from New York where jumping ahead was a way of life. Frankly, so was being rude. It took months to get those bad habits out of my system. But man did I save a lot of time at four way stops during those first few months back in California.
Coach Matt and Coach Jordan took four way stop etiquette to an extreme. You know those guys who clearly get to the four way stop before you do but still insist on you going first. That's Matt and Jordan. And those how our Little League game went. If you were allowed 6 pitches, they'd give you 8. If there was a hint of a thought of a question that a runner didn't get to the next base quickly enough, back he went. If a fielder even pondered stepping into the base path, the runner advanced. That's how the whole game went. I can only imagine what would happen if these two arrived in a doorway at the same time ("after you" "no, after you" "no, after you" "no, after you" "no, after you"...).
In the end, one team did have to win and the other did have to lose. But if ever there was a game that wasn't about winning or losing but how the kids played the game it was this battle of the nice guys. If pushed, Coach Jordan might admit that his team was victorious. But he would no doubt say something like "it was a well fought battle" or "but for better hitting and better fielding we would never have won." To which Coach Matt would no doubt say "no, no, your team was so well trained, they deserved to win" or "we never had a chance." And so it would go. The snack would get eaten. Parents would pick up and head home. The sun would set. The sun would rise. New teams would gather. Yet still, "no, really, I'm quite sure that if you had a full week between games your boys would have won." "I really doubt that. They were quite overmatched." "I just don't see that. Far more luck than skill." "Far more skill than luck." "Ok, more luck than skill." "No no. More skill than luck." "Perhaps a bit of luck." "A bit of skill." " A bit of luck." "A bit of skill." "A bit of luck." "A bit of . . . ."