Twelve Angels stared at me. I looked into their eyes which were underlined with a black crayon type substance. The visors hovered above their heads being supported by pony tails similar to the image of a dozen halos. If bells were ringing, I would have asked them all to turn around, so I could check to see if they, in fact, had wings. I would have believed it after how far they’d risen after getting knocked down only two nights prior by the same team. Seven innings were complete in this game. 21 innings over the course of the day. These floating phenoms had been at this same field for over seven hours. And, yet, this game was still tied.
This story is about the most exciting day I’ve ever experienced on a diamond.
The Lake St. Louis Angels are a group of 7 and 8 year old softball players, of which my daughter is a part. Yours truly is one of the coaches. I entered the team in a “club level” tournament in a neighboring county, about an hour round trip commute from home to Field 6. The Angels are a “rec” team meaning it’s a group of friends that like playing together. This weekend’s competition includes teams that were “hand selected” to find the best 12 players for their team. I don’t begrudge this type of team. I think there are a time and a place for a “select” team. I’m just not ready to commit my 7-year old to “select” softball quite yet. (This is where this post could go in a different direction, but I’m saving that type of discussion for another day). Now, that you have a quick idea of who the Angels are and what they’re up against, I’m going to take you to Game 1. Friday Night.
12-0 Loss. Ugh. What did I get these kids into? I felt responsible for making their parents drive through rush hour only to get shellacked by what appeared to be superior talent and definitely was superior coaching. I felt terrible. For the kids. For the parents. I was close to retiring. Then, the Angels taught this coach a lesson.
Sunday Morning, 9:15am. It was 45 minutes before first pitch, I’m throwing BP to some of the girls, and my stomach was in knots. I thought to myself, “well, if we get rocked again, I guess we could all go swimming.” It was hot. And, all of a sudden, so were the Angels’ bats. 18 runs later, the team that was blanked 36 hours prior defeated a highly skilled team aptly knows as “the Prospects” by ten runs. 18-8 Final. The Angels advance to a 4 pm Semi-Final Game, opponent TBD.
We all leave the complex, grab some eats, return at 3:15p for warm-ups to find out the Prospects get another shot at Heaven’s Heroes. Time to let you inside my little mind…On one glove, if we lose, well, it was worth the trip because we played three games, won one, and were able to see the level of competition that we could play at…and, on the other glove, if we win, I found out the team that whipped us on Friday night would be our opponent for a Championship Game. That could be rough as well, but it would be nice to see what these kids can do if they play the way they did that morning. Okay, Angels, let ‘er fly. And, fly, they did, around the bases, run after run after run, putting up another 18 to win yet again 18-10.
So, it’s time for a shot at the New York Yankees. That’s what this team looked like. These kids were dressed as sharply as they played. And, they were smart. Their coach was speaking Spanish and English to them. I was impressed and intimidated. I’m lucky if I can find more than one way to say “please, I’m begging you, when you’re in the field, do not take your eye off the ball, if you do, the ball will find your eye.” And, you know what, our kids could care less what type of glossy finish was on their uniform, what language they were speaking or that they had a perfect record through the first 21 games of their summer season. I wish I was 8 again. Kids are smart.
If you started reading this post at the top, you now know that the score is tied after 7 innings which means “extra innings” because well, this is the Championship Game, and the scoreboard must dictate a winner. Our team runs off the field and straight to me. I stop them in a group huddle prior to entering the dugout. I say to them “Angels, I’m so proud of you. You’ve taught me a lesson in never, ever giving up, not ever. And, I’m here to tell you that no matter what happens in the 8th inning and/or beyond, you all deserve a high as the sky, where the Angels live, High 5.” One of the little girls looks at me and asks, “Coach Jeff, do we get a trophy if we lose this game and finish in second place?” “I’m really not sure ladies, but it’s not about the trophy, it’s about how far you’ve come since Friday. You’ve shown everyone what you can do.” Then, they all just glared at me, like I insulted their talent level. One of the girls gets right up next to me and says “Coach Jeff, we’re here to win. Who bats first this inning?”
Now, I’m going to give you a brief Play-by-Play. The Yankees…er Redhawks make some dazzling plays in the field, and the Angels have a runner on a second base with 2 out, no runs have scored this inning and my kid is at the plate. Keep in mind that the Redhawks have “last licks” (baseball speak for … they’re the home team, so get to bat last). Well, Delaney makes an out. She’s crushed. Her head is buried under her jersey. It’s all tied up heading to the bottom of the 8th. One of the other Dads takes her aside and tells her that it’s a part of the game, and she needs to get out to her position and make a play to assure that there is a 9th inning, and that this game won’t end quite yet. A couple of her teammates pat her on the back as they head to stop the Redhawks one more time.
First hit of the bottom of the 8th is a line drive scorcher two steps to our shortstop’s left. Our shortstop is Delaney. She snags it. One out. The smile is back. (Special thank you to the Dad that pumped her up…he knows who he is, and I’ve thanked him a thousand times in the past week). Inning ominously progresses. Bases are now loaded, two out, so championship run is only 60 feet away. Are you ready for this? One hop smash to the pitcher’s left (Emma), she gets a small piece of it, re-directing it to the second baseman, Maddie, who throws to Libby, our first baseman to get the runner by a half step. Holy Angels up on High!!! I look to the heavens and cannot believe what just happened. I half expected a real angel to be standing in front of me. What I got were 12 of them looking at me, completely mute, waiting for instructions. That’s a miracle in itself. One of them just said “Okay, Coach, we held them like you asked us to do, now what? 9th inning, right? Who’s up? Let’s end this thing.”
And, end it, they did. The Angels scored 5 in the 9th to the Redhawks 3 and won the game by an NFL-esque score of 28-26.
After the last was recorded, I didn’t say a word. I walked down the right field line, and just watched a group of friends have the time of their life celebrating with each other. I’m thankful that my wife took pictures, a lot of pictures. It was like a scene in a movie, best I’ve ever seen. I give it 12 stars.