Thursday, July 25, 2013
Winning for Losing
Sometimes it's just inevitable.
Sometimes you just can't win for losing.
But, then again, sometimes the line between winning and losing is blurred.
Last night, my little Gold '99 fastpitch team was in the semi-final game to see who would go one to play in the championship game. It was a very close battle.
We were in the top of the final inning, and down by only two with one out and knowing that if we could hold them to a couple of runs, we could come back and win it in our final at bat.
The first out was made at first base, the player picking up a ground ball down first base line and the runner beaten to the bag.
But then with only a runner on second, their team hit a hard ground ball to our third baseman who looked up and saw the runner on second heading to third.
So she ran to third base and touched the bag first.
But she didn't tag the runner.
I know this because I was chatting with the other team's third base coach and was standing only a couple feet away, watching intently.
"OUT" screamed the umpire – all of fifteen years old – from left field.
There was no way he saw the play.
"She didn't tag her" screamed the fans from the opposing team's bleachers.
They were right.
With my scorebook in hand, I trotted out to left field. And I explained to the umpire that this was not a force play at third.
"But she tagged her", he said – while the fans of the other team were screaming the same thing at the fifteen year old Umpire.
"No she didn't. She didn't even make the attempt to tag her".
That was my fault. I didn't teach my young third-baseman well enough.
I waved to the other team to bring the runner back to third.
That runner scored on the next play when we achieved another out at first on the next batter.
That would have been three outs right there.
And the rest of the inning was a comedy of errors by my infield.
Balls thrown over the first basemen's head, dropped catches on pop-ups. And a dropped ball at first.
My closing pitcher, who I adore as a person – who always gets the job done – then had a hard time finding the strike zone. After eight runs I switched pitchers – even though this admirable young girl had done so such a great job to that point. As I pointed to my little centerfielder to replace her on the mound, my admirable young closer's face started to crumble under the emotion.
And my heart sunk into my stomach for doing that to her.
My next little pitcher came out to warm up – while my admirable young closer walked out to center field. The whole team except for the catcher went out to centerfield with her. And while my next little pitcher threw her practice pitches – the rest of my team consoled my admirable young closer – apologizing for their mistakes – and telling her how great she was – and telling her jokes until she finally laughed.
My next little pitcher struck their batter out with three pitches to finally end the inning.
And we couldn't make up the ten run deficit in our final at bat.
In the huddle after the game where the girls sit on the grass in left field while I stand and talk about the game, I explained to the team what happened at third base. And why I called back the other base runner to third and gave the other team back the second out.
"We don't want to win that way, do we?" I asked.
The girls all said nothing. But they all shook their heads no in agreement.
"You don't want to hear all your friends from the other team tell you we won by cheating or by a really bad call by the umpire, do you?"
"No way coach!" replied my sturdy catcher who is the oldest on the team, a fantastic leader on the squad and top in her class at school.
And the others all chimed in as well muttering "Nope" and "Uh. Uh".
"And we still won the regular season, right?" I continued. "We know in our hearts we are the best team, right?"
"Right", the all replied.
"Sometimes girls you just have to do what's right, even though it's not in favor", I said. "And that, I really believe was the right thing to do".
I doubt the other team really thought much about the out we gave back.
And I doubt very much that our sense of right and fair play will go down in Turtle Club lore – in fact the other coaches would likely think me nuts for not taking advantage of a really bad call by the Umpire in left field.
But all the girls on my little Gold '99 team will remember it. And as the pain of losing washes away as it always does quickly with kids, I think as they grow up, they will remember that call, and that decision, and be proud.
And I think they already feel like winners.
Even though we lost the game, we won.
Perhaps sometimes you can win for losing.
Because sometimes the line between winning and losing gets blurred.
But I sure will miss my little team of Gold '99s.
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