Camaraderie, a passion for sports, and hopes for a future payoff draw plenty of young people to club and travel teams. Local players, their parents and other observers assess the pros and cons.

By Jack Rodgers | Photograph by Terry Plowman
From the October 2018 issue

feature-travel-sports

It’s July 1971, in the little township of Ruscombanor, Pa., and the outlook isn’t so bright for the Red Sox nine.

I’ve just walked the bases loaded with two outs in the final inning. My winless Little League team is clinging to a one-run lead in a real nail-biter, 21 to 20, over the undefeated Tigers. The real problem, other than my lack of control, is grinning in the on-deck circle: the Tigers’ clean-up hitter. He’s a mountain of an 8-year-old, Mike Brill, the hitter I least want to see.

 

In the stands, my mom has covered her eyes in the face of impending doom; my dad has already retreated way past the other fathers. Meanwhile, over at the concession stand, the “Victory” sodas, RC Cola, are being poured — and placed by the window facing the Tigers dugout.

The batter steps up to the plate, and I’m sweating in my old gray flannel uniform. The first pitch is right down the middle — and Mike takes it, perhaps surprised that I’d thrown a strike. My teammates give a yelp of hope, sounding reedy and birdlike behind me. I toe the rubber with my plastic spikes and prepare to throw again.

This time Mike is prepared and there is the firm “craaaack” as he connects. No one moves as the ball soars out of sight — but into the trees, clearly foul. So there are now two strikes, and the Tigers are up in their dugout hooting like a calliope, shaking the chicken wire that protects them from foul balls. The moms stop pouring, and the dads stand up from their lawn chairs.

As if in a trance, I rear back and throw as hard as I can. Mike uncoils a tremendous swing … but there’s no joy in Tigerville that day, as the mighty Mike had struck out. Game over and, finally, the Red Sox drink from the chalice of victory.

 

 

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