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You Can Too

Story ID:5923
Written by:Michael Timothy Smith (bio, link, contact, other stories)
Story type:Story
Location:Saint John New Brunswick Canada
Year:1999
Person:The Kids of Saint John
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You Can Too

I trudged up the hill from work. At the time, I worked a block from our home. I
just completed a long twelve hour shift and was tired. The steps to our second floor flat
seemed to go on forever. At the top, I started to take my coat off, when my son, Justin,
burst through the door of his room, “Dad! Dad! I’m going to play ball tonight.”

“What?”

“I’m playing baseball tonight!”

Tired and weary, I stared down at him in confusion. “What do you mean you’re
playing ball tonight? Where are you playing ball?”

He stared up at me. “Dad, I joined a baseball league.”

“How and when? Justin, what are you talking about?”

“Dad, all my friends at school are playing baseball. Tonight is the first night.”

“Where at?”

“I don’t know! It’s downtown somewhere.”

“How are we supposed to get there if you don’t know where it is?”

“Dad, it’s just down town. We’ll find it.”

I pulled my jacket back on. He grabbed the baseball glove he bought at a flea
market a few years back. It fit his left hand; he was left handed – not a good match. “So
where are we going?” I asked.

“I don’t know, Dad.” He ran to the door. “It’s downtown.”

I couldn’t deny him. We got in the car and headed, well, downtown.

Saint John, New Brunswick was not a big city. Downtown was only a few blocks
in either direction. “I think it’s in the south end, Dad.” My son stared at me and held his
glove. “We’ll find it.”

We crossed the city center and entered the south end. We saw a few kids with
gloves on their hands. “I guess we’re heading in the right direction, son. Those kids look
like they are ready for some ball.”

He sat high in the seat and stared out the window. “See? I told you, Dad.”

“I believed you, son.”

We found the field. It was definitely on the south end. It was on the harbor, near
where the mouth of the mighty Saint John River emptied into the Atlantic Ocean. The
wind blew in off the water, as it would all summer long, and chilled the parents through
to the bone, but the kids failed to notice it. Their minds were on baseball.

It was a rag-tag group of boys and girls, just enough to form three teams. It surprised me.
For a city of seventy thousand, that’s all the kids they could gather.

It’s been a long time. My memories of the events are vague, but I remember
sitting on the bleachers all summer long, wearing heavy clothes to fight off the chill of
the wind. My son was in the nine and ten year old league, but because there were only
enough kids for three teams, they played with the eleven and twelve year old kids.

I still remember a few of the kids. There was John. He was the smallest of the
lot, but he lived for baseball. He pitched harder and faster then kids twice his size.
I stood by home plate and heard the hiss of his pitch pass me. I remember a heavy-set
girl. She wasn’t fast in the field, but she could hit a ball further than any of the boys.

It was a poor league. There were no uniforms. They were lucky to have shirts
that matched. They played in T-shirts and jeans.

The first games were disasters. The young kids had no idea where the ball was
to be thrown. The younger kids shied away from the pitch and swung their bats in lame
attempts to hit the ball. If a ball was hit, the fielders jumped away from the ball, instead
of getting in front of it. I would have laughed, but my son was one of the ones throwing
the ball to the wrong base. I sat, groaned, and shivered in the wind.

The three teams battled each other – won and lost – all summer long. The coaches
were patient. They never yelled or criticized the kids. It was a game and they treated it
that way. At the same time, they taught and encouraged the young players.

Near the end of the year, I noticed a change. It was so gradual of a change, I
failed to notice it. With only a few games left in the season, the kids were throwing the
ball to the correct base. When a runner headed to second, the second baseman was on
the bag waiting for the throw. The catcher was always at home plate waiting for the
throw home to tag a runner. The first baseman had his toe on the bag with his glove
out to catch a throw and get an out.

My son’s team finished in third place that year – last.

The city had a tournament for the various leagues. The best teams from each
league competed for the city championship. Our league was small. No team had enough
nine and ten year olds to compete in the tournament on their own, so they put all the kids
in that age range on one team, to play together.

We showed up at the tournament in T-shirts donated by a local business. The
other teams were from the out-lying areas, areas with more money, and had full uniforms.
From the start, our team felt unworthy. They didn’t stand a chance. They didn’t look or
feel like a team and were quickly eliminated.

My son was devastated. That night, I had to hold and comfort him, and reassure
him that next year would be better.

Nine months later, I was freezing in the wind again. Most of the kids were back.
The same coaches encouraged them. They had matching shirts that year. They were a
team and played like it. The parents were proud of the improvement from the year
before.

The second year ended. The kids were familiar with each other. They knew
each other’s strengths and weaknesses and worked to help each other. The city
tournament was only a few weeks away.

We arrived at the field on a late September, freezing, Canadian, morning for the
first game. There was still frost on the field. We were to play the team that clobbered us
the year before. The other team strode onto the field in full uniform, confident they would
beat us again. They looked and felt like a team.

Our team sat on the bench. Their breath fogged the cold air in front of them.
They had matching pants, bought by the parents, and shirts donated by a local sponsor.

For the first time, they looked and were a team. They wanted revenge. They needed and wanted to
prove themselves.

It was a close game. Near the end, we were up by a run. The apposing team had
the bases loaded with two outs. The batter hit a line drive to the short stop. Little John
was there. He dove, landed on his stomach, snagged the grounder, jumped up, and
threw the ball home for the final out. The umpire walked over to our coach. “In all
my years of umpiring this level of baseball, I have never seen a kid do that. He’s
amazing.”

The team went to the finals. It was another close game, but we won it. The little
team from the inner city, the ones with nothing going for them, did it. They did it
because they were a team. They worked and felt like a team. They believed in each
other.

I’ve read a lot about team work. It sounds like a lot of hype, but that little
group of inner city kids believed it then and I believe it now. In whatever you do,
if you work as a team and believe as a team, you will accomplish great things.

If kids believed it, then you can too.

Michael T. Smith