Saturday, December 13, 2008

Being a good teammate ... and playing for a good team.

We were back at Big League Dreams again after several months. And we were there early. Call time was 7:15 on a gray, misty morning. It was cold to be certain. The game was at 8am and Rabbit got the ball as starter. Having him start always makes me nervous, but it is particularly terrifying for games starting before 10am.

In his two innings of work (standard fare for the first day of a tourney) he allowed 5 hits, one walk (did not come around to score), two strikeouts (including a devastating change-up) and one earned run. And also six unearned. It was frustrating. We could see the team struggling to not fall into bad habits of giving up on games. We were down 4-0, 4-3, 7-3 and 8-4 in this game. Back in July we would have started packing up because the mercy rule would have been inevitable. But a funny thing happened on the way to the loss. Rabbit, after a mediocre turn on the hill and another error at pitcher walked his first two trips and singled sharply in his third at bat. For this tourney he was hitting clean-up, a tip of the cap to his vastly improved hitting of late. He also scored twice, including the bottom of the last inning winning run! Blue Wave scored the last 5 runs of the game to prevail 9-8. While it was not a thing of beauty, it was a win we most likely would not have achieved earlier in the year. The team was starting to believe that they can win games. It is fun to watch.

After a quick lunch we played again at noon. For game 2 Rabbit was back at first and still hitting fourth. His first AB was an 8 pitch pop out to second. A very nice AB and while not the perfect result, a good effort. In the bottom of the second (we were visitors, so hitting first) with 2 outs Rabbit brutally misplayed a routine ground ball into a two run error. It was ugly. He took the next two batters off before finally getting back into the game. It was frustrating to watch, but also it was only 2-1. We were still in it.

His next at bat was a four pitch strike out with two good swings and one horrible one. He was still angry. He will learn to shorten his memory. It is ok to be aggressive, but don't swing angry! He played better at first after the error and came up again against the ace pitcher in the 4th. After opening 2-0 Rabbit took a cut that scared me. It was the most violent swing I can recall from him in quite a while. Even though he missed the ball he knew that if he hit the ball, it was going to go far. At 3-1 the pitcher made a mistake. Rabbit laced a ball just fair down the LF line. All of his extra running paid off as he was halfway between 2nd and 3rd before the LF even caught up to the ball at the fence 338 feet away. He came in, standing up, with his second Blue Wave Home Run. We were sitting on the 1B side and could see his smile as he rounded 3rd and came across. A great moment.

Later on defense he turned another 6-3-2 double play, throwing a perfect strike to the catcher who blocked the plate like a pro. The boys had come from behind, again, and won 7-6. This team has now won 5 of their last 6 and is starting to believe. All the boys were hitting. To be sure, there were many errors and miscues, but none of the hopelessness, or haplessness, from previous tournaments. The team walks differently now. Not a swagger but a contagious confidence that they can play with, and beat, any team they face. It will not always be this good, but for now it is going well.

Oh, and one last thing. In the third inning of the first game I heard the coach call him "Rabbit." He has earned it.

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