Riley Got His Groove Back

I doubt you missed it, but I didn't tell just a whole lot about baseball season here. Not much to tell, even though our little team went to the finals. This was Riley's first year in the 9-12 year old league, so he was one of the youngest and most inexperienced. This league is also his first experience with kid pitch. He saw plenty-o-the-bench and got up to bat only once each game. He pretty much got to where he would gamble on getting walked or struck out by just standing at home plate holding the bat.

He did, at one point, get hit in the face (on the face plate of his helmet) by a pitch. In kid pitch, you're going to get hit by a ball. But it evidently scared Riley enough that he could hardly stay in the batter's box if a pitch got close. Since he had so few opportunities at bat during the season, we didn't really address it. As long as he was having fun... but we knew he would have a better time if he could show what he was capable of doing.

Advance to summer league -- summer league is an instructional league where you play two full weeks of games, but don't have any practices. You also aren't allowed to play the same position two innings in a row and Riley's coach was great about mixing things completely up and letting anyone pitch that wanted to, etc. Riley has had a great time, but didn't swing the bat one time. Oh, he got up TO bat, but stood with his bat on his shoulder. Sometimes he walked. Sometimes he struck out. He always leapt out of the batter's box if the ball got close.

After his 2nd or 3rd night in a row striking out without swinging his bat, I talked to his coach after the game. "Not swinging isn't his primary problem. He's moving his feet to jump out before the pitch is even thrown. If we can get him to stay in the batter's box, then we can worry about him swinging the bat." So we had a little family conference when we got home -- we didn't really intend to, but it worked out that we were all in there and, of course, Riley felt attacked. It was awful. His little quivery chin and watery eyes and "But I can't tell if it's going to be a strike or not." We told him we were just telling him what he couldn't see for himself and told him some other things coach had said that may help. With only two games left in summer league, we just wanted the guy to make contact with the ball.

The next night coach had him bunt just so he could track the ball and make contact with the ball (it worked like a charm, but I would think the last thing you would try to get a kid to do if they were afraid of getting hit is try to bunt -- that's why I'm not in charge, I guess). He fouled and ended up striking out, but he at least made contact. Awesome. We just raved when we got home about his turn at bat.

Last game was Friday night. We invited two families to come watch the game with us and then to eat dinner -- since that's kind of the only way you can have a social life during baseball season. Once we got to the ballpark, Riley got pulled from his regular team to fill in for another team (from our same little league) who was a player short. He knew some of the players, but not the coaches. Their little team was playing a tough team from across town who, in their first inning at bat, got all 6 runs (only 6 allowed per inning) before an out.

Our (new) little team got up to bat. Some hits, some walks, some outs, and (dum, dum, dum) Riley gets up to bat with bases loaded, two outs, and eight of our friends there to watch! My stomach was ROLLING -- "Please just let him make contact!" I recited over and over. The first pitch, he tried to keep his feet in the batter's box, but jumped the top of his body back. He completely lost balance and tumbled back about a mile. Bless him. Okay, he recovered. Second pitch, he smacked it so hard it sailed out to far left field. When it bounced up it hit one of the advertising signs on the fence. I don't remember much else except the screaming -- my own, of course. The little turkey made it a home run and since bases were loaded, that is known as a GRAND SLAM.

Riley's hit tied up the game to 6-6 and that was the last time all night his new little team was anywhere close to ahead. And, like those games tend to do, continued to drag on and on. The last time we had time to get up to bat the first kid struck out, second kid got out and first, and then it was Riley's turn at bat. Again, two outs, only this time there was no one on base and we were losing 18-7. I figured anything he did would be a downer from the first phenomenal hit. He swung once and missed. He didn't swing at a way-outside ball. Third pitch, he knocked it to almost the same exact spot as the first. Only this time, left-fielder was ready. It was a win-win: Riley got another fabulous hit, and it ended the eternal game! Riley's slump is definitely over -- maybe mine is, too!

I wrote this article two years ago after I was driving to pick up Riley from baseball practice with my windows down. I drove by another team practicing and heard the 'ping' of a successful hit (sorry if that offends your baseball sensibilities: bats don't thwack anymore, they ping). I knew there would come a time that Riley making that ping would give me a thrill. Indeed it has.


Paula said...

As a baseball mom, that story brings tears to my eyes! Really! We love baseball around here, and I am always rooting for the underdog! Keep the stories coming.

Roxanne said...

Oh YEA!!!! YEA!!!!! YEA!!!!! for Riley. That is just so awesome. I'm glad his "season" ended on a definite upswing. I know his coach was so proud, and I'm sure dinner was a blast after that.

Merci said...

Another baseball mom here! What a GREAT baseball tale! Tell Riley some stranger mother he's never met before read his story and is really proud of him too! :) And isn't baseball the LONGEST sport season EVER? I think it will never end ..

Connie said...

Good for Riley. Summer league is time consuming but it sure give the boys an opportunity to try different positions.

I enjoyed reading both of your stories. They brought back lots of memories for me, too. It's amazing how much of a fan you become when it's your kid out there. (Eddie and I like to watch other peoples kids play now that Evan has completed his baseball playing years, hint-hint) By the way, those years fly by WAY TOO fast :( Some of our fondest memories were the year Evan played on the 12 Year Old All-Stars Team and Eddie helped as one of the coaches. I think Eddie had as much fun as Evan did!!!

As a side note, my sister isn't much of a sports fan. Her kids showed animals at stock shows. (Have you ever watched anyone show steers? Talk about boring... unless it's someone you love and still it's hard to understand what's really going on... they all look like steers to me! What's the judge looking for, anyway???) One summer she came to one of Evan's Little League games and about the 4th inning, she asked, "Just how many innings do they play???"....

Terral said...

Look out Barry Bonds!

Anonymous said...

Awesome game Riley. Sorry I missed it. You did a great job helping out the other team and helping yourself get back your groove. I love you. Papa

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