Baseball has been such a funny journey for Callum. He came to it later than most kids, starting well into elementary school, after a three year stint with lacrosse. Our local Little League has a Fall Ball that's an instructional league, designed for kids who are moving up an age group or who are trying baseball out for the first time. So in the autumn of 6th grade when he was 12, we signed him up.
At first, it was a total hassle. People wouldn't return my phone calls and I could never decipher the website. I really began to wonder if this was a good idea after all. Turns out it was a great idea. Cal got hooked up with an amazing coach, and after a few early struggles (he had never picked up a bat after all), he turned into an impressive fielder and hitter. Who knew?
In 7th grade, Cal played for his school team, an experience that was thrilling and disheartening at the same time. His relative inexperience, compared to kids who'd played for years and were playing year round, showed, and he didn't get much playing time.
So he did a baseball camp this summer and we got him in with his hitting coach, and when Fall Ball time rolled around again, we all figured more at-bats couldn't hurt.
But oh, Fall Ball. The Bad-News-Bears Ball. By the time they're this age, a lot of kids are playing for their school or travel teams, so it's hard to get a team together. The age range runs from 13-16 (try playing a team where half the other players are DRIVING themselves to the field), and the skill range is pretty vast too. We were three games in before the kids had caps, and another game in before they had shirts. It felt like the red headed step kids of Little League. They lost. A lot. Well, let's face it, they lost all the time. But the coaches were great, always encouraging, and each week got a little better and the margins got a little closer. it was, for the most part, a great group of kids who worked hard together to keep their heads up and play hard for each other regardless of outcome.
In the midst of all of this, Cal's confidence soared. His time on his school team had taught him a lot, and he was hitting like a champ. One double went over 300 feet.
Last week at practice, his coach told Cal that he'd be pitching the next game. He was excited all week. He likes pitching. Cal's position of choice is 3rd base, not pitching, but still, he likes it. A rainy Friday had us nervous, but an hour's worth of clean up before the game on Saturday had the fields ready.
I was strangely serene. In the first inning, he struck out two batters and popped out a third. In the history of our little team, that had never happened. We'd never, ever gone three up/three down before. And then, even more shocking, in the bottom of that inning, we scored some runs. Our first ever lead. Cal kept pitching, his buddy Nick (who knew he'd turn out to be a great catcher?) kept the ball close, and where our guys (and girl) were dropping balls and over throwing the bases before, they were playing tight. It was a sight to behold.
Cal's pitching stayed solid. We got up 8-0, and I started to hope. Three innings, four innings. There was a big lefty who Cal walked early in the game, and when he came
up a second time he taunted my boy a bit. So Cal struck him out. Next
time up, that guy popped up to the catcher. All these kids were having
so much fun. Maybe Cal's arm started to tire, but they started to hit off him a bit. Even with runners on base and runs scoring, he still had a big grin on his face. He was loving every second of it. Even with the kids on the other team yelling and banging on the fence every time he wound up, just to try to throw him off, he was loving every second of it.
We only played six innings because of time, and as Cal took the mound in the top of the 6th he called to me and Neel, "I'm pitching, but I'm on a short leash." It was 8-4; how could he not be tired? I'm biting my nails and texting my dad as one run scores and another run scores. 8-5
One out. 8-7. I mutter to Neel, I'm his mom, and I'd pull him at this point.
But even after a chat on the mound, his coach kept him in.
8-7, two outs, runners on first and third. With the whole game and their first win of the season on the line, what does he do? With three pitches, he strikes the final batter out.
I was too busy watching to take a picture and I don't even care. I can still see him jump, grinning from ear to ear, so high off that pitcher's mound. I can see him and Nick run toward each other and the rest of the team stream in from the field. Neel rushed to the gate by the dugout and lifted him high of the ground, and I was next to sweep him into the biggest hug I could manage. At this age, a complete game is almost unheard of, and for this team, well, a win was unheard of. It was a great moment, Really, really great.
I never want him to forget it.