Little League Life Lessons

Little Johnny Tweedunk, who sprouted from Anytown, USA, played baseball, adroitly, from the time he entered elementary school. His daddy endeavored, from the early stages of Johnny’s life, to instill in his son the proper techniques, the essential skills, the right attitude, and, most important of all, the complex ethics of playing the game. As with countless dads of Little League boys and girls around the world, Dad wanted his son to make it to the Big Leagues one day.

How daddies (and some mommies, too) try to get their kids there depends on many variables.

Sure, he wanted Johnny to be able to dive for ground balls at shortstop or to accurately flip a backhand toss to the third baseman when needed, and swinging the bat properly was a goal from the very beginning. However, above all, Mr Tweedunk didn’t want his son to cheat at the game. In fact, even if his offspring never learned how to steal a base nor developed the knack for hitting home runs, he was going to be a one proud papa if cheating to win NEVER entered into his son’s approach to the game. Lo and behold, Johnny Tweedunk never disappointed his daddy. Playing the game ethically was his modus operandi.

It was simply an added bonus that he was a darn good player, too.

Yet down the lane from the Tweedunk’s lived Little Barry Twediddle. Barry was as different from Johnny as a Starbuck’s coffee concoction is from real coffee, with regards to all aspects of life. Moreover, it was a night and day difference in how they each approached the game.

Barry, on the other hand, relied on cheating to help his team. He had no other option, for in his mind, it was all he knew, and it was all his father fostered in him. In fact, without the ability to manipulate the game immorally, he would simply never have been able to stay on one team for long, for he didn’t have what it took, otherwise, to succeed. His success (which merely translates to not getting cut from a Little League team) was based entirely on manipulating the game and bending the rules.

The elder Twediddle, starting some time around when Barry was just about ready to enter Little League, simply instructed his son to work his magic any chance he could get–because they never invested any energy into actually learning to play the game. The incredible sense of irresponsibility that the father instilled in Barry was rival to the profound sense of responsibility that his neighborhood nemesis, the elder Tweedunk, imparted on Johnny.

Barry’s father had absolutely no skill, himself, to responsibly raise a child. He coddled his son so much that Barry didn’t have to do anything or learn any real-world skills to survive, and with that handicap, his child never developed into anyone that could succeed at the game of baseball without falling back on unethical tactics and trickery (and without falling back on his parents).

So when the boys, who lived in houses a mere 50 meters from each other, entered into Little League, on opposing teams, their destinies were bound to be different.

One was known to rely on his principles; the other, his deception.

Johnny played hard and he worked even harder. He endeavored to make something for himself, for it was all he knew. Any given day, anyone familiar with the lad could attest to Johnny’s work ethic. It was profound. It was notable. Undoubtedly, his father (and his parents in general) had so much to do with building the foundation of his success through encouragement and pushing their son out of the nest (to learn to survive without being coddled), but inside Johnny was also an immeasurable fondness for doing things based on principle, so when any chance arose while playing in a game to cheat, he didn’t.

Again, he didn’t need to.

He relied on all his determined resolution and intestinal fortitude to develop the skills requisite to the game, and later, to life in general. That should have been enough to win. Usually, it was, except when playing in a game against Barry Twediddle.

You see, sometimes effort and ethics simply cannot overcome the barriers that another’s immoral behaviors create along the path to success–and that holds true in any game in life, not just baseball.

During the 1998 season, when they were around 12 years of age, their two teams played, twice.

After the first two weeks, many predicted who was going to take the League title in the end, based on a legitimate understanding of how things should have worked.

Although Johnny’s Blue Jays were in first place in the division for their age group, and Barry’s team, the Red Sox, were basement dwellers after a fortnight, matters arose that changed the outcome of the games (and the season), against the expectations of what anyone with a sense of logic would have predicted. In fact, people were astonished by how the outcomes were affected by such beaches of morality.

You see, Barry beat the system by doing what he did best: Cheating. He had nothing else to employ besides bullshit antics.

Oh, and a little extra systemic help, if you will, as we’ll see shortly.

Both boys played shortstop, on their respective teams, but Barry only got to play that position because his daddy had influence with the coaches. In fact, the kid sucked, but he got to where he was on the team, in a spot on the field that requires cat-like reflexes, quick-thinking skills, etc., only because of his father’s own lack of ethics. You see, he knew that his son was horribly inept, and he knew that if there was no outside influence, a coach would not select Barry for his/her team.

Generally speaking, Little League doesn’t consist of tryouts, so kids aren’t being judged like they might be elsewhere, such as when trying out for a high school baseball team. Yet Barry was so bad, no coach would have had him on his team, otherwise. Influence was needed so that coaches approved of Barry in the first place–and also so they looked the other way when the kid used his less-than-scrupulous tactics to “help” the team.

Daddy paid Barry’s coaches off both in kind and in cash. His own father perpetrated corrupt choices to aid his kid, even though instilling in his son a belief that shameless dishonesty would prevail over fairness would eventually prove detrimental to the lad’s adulthood years in the long run, in many ways.

Mr Twediddle bought the team sodas and hot dogs after every game. He paid for the team uniforms, equipment, and all fees associated with the team. Without such largesse, Barry would have surely been benched or kicked off the team (not to mention being signed up to play in the first place). His lack of skills and dearth of ethics was evident to all, but influence (and a few greenbacks) goes a long way in prompting indifference in others.

As folks around the world know, money talks, and for the immoral, like Barry and his dad, getting someone to turn a blind eye was just part of the game. Whether or not the game was played fairly mattered not. They were unmoved by their own dishonesty.

During the first of the two games that season, Barry tried as much as he could to sway the outcome. At one point, he intentionally led off of first base (even though Little League rules prohibited taking a lead), yet the umpire looked the other way, as did any official involved in the game. They knew the deal.

Thus, when his teammate in the batting order behind him hit a single into shallow center, Barry easily advanced two bases. And when Barry slid into third, he dug his cleats deep into the shins of the boy defending the bag, who was merely trying to make the tag. When a Blue Jay’s benchwarmer replacement player hesitatingly came on the field, everyone in the stands knew that spelt doom for Johnny’s team.

As expected, the next hit came directly to the newly crowned third baseman, who promptly forgot what to do, throwing deep to first, instead, without checking the runner, and Barry scored easily. His head held high, he ran to his teammates to give high-fives, many of whom tentatively returned them, for they, themselves couldn’t believe their own eyes. Even his own coach gave him a half-hearted pat on the shoulder, while he skeptically wondered if what he, himself, was doing was right.

Johnny Tweedunk stood there and watched the play at third unfold, helpless to do anything about it.

Between innings, when Johnny started to deeply question the unfairness of it all, he spoke with his coach, but the response came, “It’s useless to fight it.” Yet, the lad, being who he was, didn’t give up. In fact, hearing that perspective–from someone whom he should have been able to rely on–encouraged him to persevere.

Seven or eight other dubious plays perpetrated by Johnny helped add another five runs to the Red Sox’s tally, influencing the game enough that they won, regardless of what Johnny did both offensively and defensively, making stellar plays along the way.

Of course, after the final inning drew to a close, Johnny pleaded to his coach to go and warn Barry about his behaviors. When Coach approached the younger Twediddle and lambasted him for his tactics, Barry denied all. His upbringing allowed him to lie and twist the truth without regret.

No remorse usually comes to those who exploit the weak (e.g., the newly crowned third baseman) or to those who employ chickanery to get what they want. Perhaps, such double dealing frauds occasionally battle their own misgivings about their past immorality, but most do not.

It is wishful thinking that their lives be filled with self-condemnation and regretfulness. One can only hope that on every conniving bastard’s deathbed, he/she will have one second of fleeting reflection to at least feel that final pang of repentance before his or her miserable life comes to an end.

Most likely, however, retribution will just be left up to the gods. Perhaps hellish fires will torture their souls for eternity, or they’ll be reborn as a cockroach destined to live the next cycle of worldly existence in a stench-filled, pernicious landfill heap. Somehow, someway, everyone faces some level of reckoning.

Moreover, his upbringing didn’t allow Barry Twediddle to own up to his falsehoods. He never learned to apologize for his wrongdoings, but he, indeed, developed a skill for hiding them, too, for he learned from the best: His dad.

Dad was the same growing up, for he cheated everyone he came across, especially in sports. So that’s what he instilled in his boy. It was all he knew. Having manipulated his way through his business career, skimming from the books, looking the other way, he retired earlier than most, yet his financial standing was never questioned by anyone, all assuming that Barry’s dad was simply good with saving money. They felt that way because of his adroit tendency to lie to all, even to his own wife. He led a life of farce, and his only hobby was to lay the same bedrock of crookedness in his son’s heart.

Both destroyed the hopes of Johnny Tweedunk, any chance they could get, deriving devilish pleasure from their dirty deeds.

Now, throughout that first game, on the other hand, Johnny’s skills stood out from the rest. His work effort, his hours of intense concentration in becoming better, in reaching his goals (for himself and those dear to him), were all apparent to everyone. Yet he didn’t have a chance. Sometimes, sadly, when two teams or individual athletes oppose each other, it doesn’t matter how ethical one team or person is or in how they approach the game, because when the other team or competitor manipulates and schemes behind the scenes to influence outcomes, nothing can be done to stop it. At least that’s often the case.

However, that never deterred Johnny Tweedunk. He played on, leading his team to victory in multiple games after the above first-game fiasco, yet three months later, the boys’ two teams faced off against each other once more.

Lamentably, there were other variables that compounded the difficulties and roadblocks in Johnny’s way when facing his nemesis: Racism and nationalism, too, were involved.

Even though the world we live in is getting smaller by the day, with international-mindedness seeping its way slowly into the mindsets of many, stupidity still exists, and that stupidity begets intolerance and racism, prejudice and hatred–even on the Little League playing fields of Anytown, USA. Such was the case of Johnny Tweedunk vs. Barry Twediddle: it came to fruition that the skin color and nationality of one boy had an impact on the game, too. Little League should, naturally, be devoid of such ridiculousness, but human folly is everywhere.

Not only did Johnny face Barry’s continual habit of unfair shenanigans and downright deceit (and Mr Twediddle’s, too) but he was also further challenged and burdened by a behind-the-scenes racism at play.

Johnny simply wasn’t the same race as the people whom he was up against in this sordid chapter in his book of life, and the fact that his parents were immigrants played a factor, too.

All in all, the Red Sox and the Blue Jays were fairly evenly matched teams. With all things being roughly even, the big difference came down to Johnny and Barry, and that somewhat hidden aforementioned, never-talked-about variable. Johnny’s dominate all-around skills and approach to the game would, in an ideal world, serve as a solid foundation for success–and his goals should have readily been reached, if not for such deplorable interference.

Barry’s bullshit created an uneven playing field, and as we have seen, Johnny’s persistence and savvy should have been enough to turn the tide. Yet outcomes, even with the added detriments that the former’s deception had begotten, wouldn’t necessarily have had to favor the despicable swindlers, yet that last ingredient, when sprinkled into the mixture, was the final straw.

With racism also at hand, Johnny, seemingly inevitably, was bound for failure.

During the second meeting between their teams, at the very end of the season, bias dealt a dirty hand to our otherwise-bound-for-success star player. It was the last game, and by then, in large part due to Barry’s continual antics, the teams had even records. Whoever won that final encounter would go to the championship game against the winner of the other division.

Throughout the game, a back-and-forth affair, every standout play Johnny displayed was counterbalanced by the ruthless tomfoolery utilized by his arch rival. As always, everyone in the know knew what to do. Mr Twediddle was deep in many a persons’ pockets.

Just as how every imaginary game in every Little League kids’ mind happens to pan out, it all came down to the bottom of the ninth, with two outs, tied score. Nobody was on base. And you know who came to bat.

The last play of the game.

Classic.

Based on Johnny’s countless hours of hard work over the season, from start to finish, all the money he spent on getting legitimate help (such as his parents seeking advice on skills development by contacting retired professional players), hiring private coaches to help him, etc., all, undoubtedly, should have ensured success. When it came down to the wire, his impressive grit and ongoing stamina, his positive attitude in facing challenges, and, well, everything about him, allowed the final game of the season to remain close.

He was given one final chance to succeed.

On the second pitch, Johnny smashed a hard drive to deep center, one that bounded to the warning track, where the center fielder adeptly played the bounce off the wall, perfectly–just as Johnny was reaching third base, with what would have been his third triple of the game. Immediately, the outfielder launched a picture-perfect rocket to the cut-off man, the shortstop, Barry Twediddle.

Inept, he held up his catching hand, praying that he’d make his first true catch in a game that season, but in all his feebleness, his glove catapulted off, falling to the ground, with the ball landing next to it, a few feet behind him.

Johnny’s coach, knowing Barry’s skills (or lack, thereof), waved the Blue Jay’s pride and joy home.

Johnny darted towards home plate with the swiftness of a gazelle, with the kind of physical prowess that makes many a mom and dad proud.

Yet…

Well, you know what happened, right?

No, dear reader, you don’t, because in this world, people who stick to their principles are often fucked over by those who don’t.

You’ve seen how Barry and his father unethically manipulated the game. Their cunning tactics neutralized Johnny’s natural propensity to base life’s outcomes on principles. Even until the very end, however, he held true to his beliefs, but the seeds of doubt about the system had already been planted early in the season. Although his adeptness, running head down, not looking where the ball was, should have allowed him to prevail over the incompetent last-ditch effort of his rival, he wondered if he’d make it.

Logical thinking told him he would meet success to some degree or another. Logic would allow you to think the same thing, right?

There is no logic in this story, folks. That’s the point. It is a downright travesty of what any Little League-connected story should entail.

Two to three feet from the home base, he started his slide, keenly locking in on the catcher’s mitt, which was placed correctly in a position to retrieve a perfect throw, if there were to be one.

As the toes of his left foot started their entry into the imaginary zone above the plate, breaking the plane, with his heel plowing through the dirt a mere eight inches behind, Johnny still didn’t see a baseball enter the picture, the catcher’s glove still empty, but he knew deep down that something was still amiss.

Cheers from the stand came first, and an ephemeral visual of his father and mother jumping up out of their front row seats behind home plate followed.

Then he heard the loud slap of the Little League-endorsed baseball into the webbing of the catcher’s mitt.

He felt the force of the tag on his shoulder, nearly at the neckline of his baseball jersey.

Amazingly, Barry’s throw had veered accurately to its target, just a few nanoseconds too late.

However, the one thing everyone expected to hear burst forth from the home plate umpire’s vocal cords… never came.

Instead, the same middle-aged man who had, hours before, directly rejected the hundred dollar bill that Barry’s dad tried to thrust into his uniform’s breast pocket, enthusiastically yawped, “Oooooouuuuuuuut!” The final outcome of the season rested on this man’s shoulders, and he was having none of the bribery bullshit, but that didn’t matter. He was already biased for an entirely different reason, from the start.

Little Johnny Tweedunk’s friends, family, and supporters stood there in utter silence. His coach simultaneously slingshot himself from the doorway of the home team’s dugout to the plate, demanding an explanation, getting chin to chin and nose to nose with the ump.

Nothing so preposterously, purposefully perpetrated would stand up in court, pardon the pun (It is a perfect idiom for this notion that what the ump did on that baseball field should not have been tolerated, isn’t it? You be the judge!).

The Blue Jays coach argued until he was blue in the face, to no avail.

The umpire simply walked away, and his officiating crew followed him, with the coach nipping at their heels as best he could. They shooed him away like a pesky mosquito. If Johnny could have, he would have fired the coach for ineptitude and for being part of the process, himself–for he did nothing to stem the flow of prejudiced nonsense. And for all Little Johnny knew, his own coach couldn’t have been lining his own pockets, with the intent of seeing the star fall.

The officiating crew hadn’t needed to take the earlier attempted bribes from Mr Twediddle, but when they passed by the stands, the head ump glanced up at Barry’s dad and winked, a wink that went completely unnoticed by everyone else in the picture, for they were merely focused on the boy at the plate who still hadn’t stood up.

His tears flowing like a faucet, Johnny sat there, incredulous that the end result to all his countless months of effort came down to that: Blatant bias (to many) that was still hidden enough to remain unseen because most people were blind to it, for a reason. When societal issues are so prevalent, folks often accept it as the norm–and questioning it is to go against the grain.

Everyone seated in the stands (all of them standing by that time) and those lining the fences down both sides of the infield wore expressions of disillusion and disappointment, except for a select handful of folks who snidely smirked ever so slightly, including Barry Twediddle.

The soon-to-be-a-teen bastard knew that he’d partially won by employing his own clandestine efforts to destroy his neighborhood enemy–and more profoundly, he smirked because he knew that other, behind-the-curtain factors existed that helped him triumph in the end.

Nobody on Barry’s side would admit to “it” outwardly, and the “it” would forever remain hush-hush, not just because they knew such a revelation would overthrow the outcome of the game but also because some of Barry’s supporters weren’t full aware that it was at play, just under the surface.

You see, the “it” was so deeply engrained in their psyches that it was just a natural part of their daily lives. To have allowed racist attitudes, however so subtle, prevail, would never be fully confirmed, and it would have been even harder to prove, for everyone on Barry’s side, whether they knew it or not, or had done it deliberately or not, was guilty of aiding him in some way.

For many, they turned a blind eye to numerous outward wrongdoings during that Little League season; others, to hard-to-detect deception. A handful accepted payments to either shut up or ignore what they witnessed. Yet others directly lent a hand to create obstacles that were too challenging for Johnny Tweedunk to overcome. Moreover, narrow-mindedness and stupidity, in the form of racial bias or nationalistic cohesion, further thwarted Johnny’s efforts.

No matter how much energy, effort, and money he dedicated to his pursuits, and no matter how much support others gave, he was bound for failure. Baseball Life is like that sometimes.

The only saving grace that Johnny was able to take from that horrid experience, the one that permitted him to survive and keep going (and to not go insane because of the heavy burden placed on him for years, by having been defeated by things entirely out of his control), was that he knew the truth. He never let go of the foundation upon which he’d built himself at such a young age, his principles, which he stuck to throughout the whole ordeal. He never resorted to the antics of the Twediddle’s, and it was that reality that kept him afloat for years to come.

Johnny Twedunk faced failure in the eye, squarely, proudly, for he knew that even failure was better than stooping to the level of a fraud, without any doubt in his mind. As best as he could, he took into account all the comments he received that he did what was right, that he persevered even when others would have given up, and that he was a hero for trying.

As for all the frauds involved in the game, retribution will one day come in the form of gods’ judgments. For any Little Leaguer around the world, rest assured that, even though dishonestly sometimes goes unnoticed–or is tolerated for various reasons, life has a way of equaling things out in the end.

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