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This past weekend closed out the season for two sports teams I’ve been following. One, the Freedom Stars 11-and-under Fall Baseball team, the other the South Carroll High School Boys Soccer team. Fall baseball has no playoffs, so it was the last regularly scheduled game, against the number-one team. South Carroll competed in the Maryland state 2A semifinals. 

A typical Saturday morning, I divided time between two baseball games—my older son plays too—and the snack bar, so I only saw the last half-inning of Collin’s game. Oddly, he was pitching. He loves to, even though it is an exercise in humility, and it was only his second time this year. 

My nephew Zach Shattuck, the four-foot, six-inch high school senior with the towering heart, was playing possibly his last game of his last season. Of course that has often been said before. His storied soccer career began when he was barely out of pull-ups. It was bracing, to say the least, in the Belair High School stands as Zach’s team took on the vaunted Fallston High School Cougars in a game under the lights.  

Amazingly, Collin’s team was up by six runs, so it seemed a safe bet to let him pitch out the last inning. The worst that could happen would be a six-run inning by their opponents that would close out the game, and the season, in a tie due to the mercy rule.

The South Carroll /Fallston soccer match ended in regulation in a 1-1 tie. The first ten-minute overtime ended still tied.  To the hoarse cheers of the freezing fans, the second overtime got underway. If a score didn’t end the game, Zach's breathtaking match would come down to penalty strokes. Whatever that means.

In the bright, windy morning, red-cheeked moms and dads cheered and prayed for a quick ending as siblings huddled under blankets with their electronics. The outs, and the runs, piled up. Through it all, Collin bore down, chin set, determined, nodding at the endless encouragement from the coaching staff, and aiming for the plate. I emphasize aiming.

With barely two minutes remaining in the second overtime, Zach, in his usual pesky manner, was buzzing the Fallston players.  Once it looked like he was elbowed to the ground. Just moments later, with a Fallston player down well away from the play, it appeared Zach was knocked down again. The ref called time.

Coach John Bittorie strolled to the mound with two outs and the Stars up by two, and chatted briefly with Collin. I waited for the inevitable hand to be raised, palm up, but instead, a steady coach’s hand patted Collin’s back, and Coach returned to his upturned five-gallon throne. Collin nodded at the catcher and started his windup.

When play resumed on the field, incredibly, the ref lined up Fallston for a free kick. Whatever that is.  Stunned fans and South Carroll players reacted slowly, trying to process the sequence. Seconds later, the Fallston stands and sidelines exploded at a fantastic play off the free kick into the right side of the goal. A shocked South Carroll contingent stepped down wearily from the stands as their stunned warriors shuffled across the field to accept comfort and sad congratulations on a magnificent season.

When the dust settled, a single shot to the outfield had cleared two runners across the plate, and my son watched helpless as the players rounded the bases. Coach John had to remind the Stars that a seven-run inning wasn’t allowed. Final score, 16-16. 

I don’t know how the South Carroll team processed the ending to their wonderful run this year. I did ask Coach John in an email what made him decide to leave my son on the mound, even though I was pretty sure I already knew the answer: “The score wasn't as much a factor because I like to give all kids a chance to play in a position they might not otherwise get a chance to play…I hope to put some desire in each kid's heart to come back and keep playing baseball.”

As for Zach and the South Carroll Cavaliers boys soccer team, thanks for a great season, and for the memory of your iconic circle-up. To the Fallston Cougars, I hope you win it all. To the refs, I would never want your job. And for all those who through countless anonymous Saturdays teach our kids that it really is how you play the game, nothing in life is more important than what you do. In case I forget to mention it as often as I should.

 


Comments

Jason
11/15/2013 3:55pm

Love it. It is such an amazing thing when you get good youth coaches. I appreciate it even more when we occasionally have terrible ones!

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Mary Downs
11/16/2013 8:57am

Jack - that was wonderful to read. Brought me right back to Zach's game and to Collin's, that I wasn't able to see. You hit the nail on the head, I feel the same way about all our coaches!

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Sean Kirkendall
11/17/2013 10:03am

Love it. Sports is the BEST preparation for life! Love coaching, love and hate coaches, mostly appreciate referees, with a few very rare exceptions. Unfortunately, too many leagues are allowed to be lopsided even at the youth level where all the funding, coaching and player talent is concentrated, mimicking our society. Its the "level playing field" and "fair competition" that seems less visible and less valued, and to be lost at younger and younger ages. Refreshing to read that its not everywhere!

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