Not the sandlot
Posted on June 17th, 2013
f I’m being honest, I’d have to say that it was our fans who started it.
Roy’s Little League team played in a tournament that ran through all of last week. Including Roy’s Dodgers, there are only four teams in his Minors division, all of which his team has played numerous times over the course of the season. Everyone knows which team is the strongest (not Roy’s) and which is the weakest (also not Roy’s).
I learned this week that there’s nothing quite like calling something a ‘tournament’ to get everyone excited about match-ups they lost interest in weeks ago—and this includes my son. After laying out of two extra practices that had been tacked onto the end of the season to prepare for the hastily organized tournament, Roy attended the actual games with a level of enthusiasm for the sport I hadn’t seen from him in weeks.
And even if it was something of a contrivance, the last-minute tournament, it was exciting. The brackets, the extra innings, the opportunity to stay in contention for a tiny, shiny trophy even after a single loss—even I was paying attention.
If the designation of ‘tournament’ brought out the competitive best in the children on the field, however, it brought about the edgy, irritable worst in the parents consigned to the bleachers. In just two games, I watched an adult engage in angry discourse with an umpire, eventually leaving the field indignantly. Then, in yesterday’s championship game, Roy’s Dodgers played their opponents in the ugly heat and rabid fan-parents huddled in too-close quarters so that they might all share a bit of shade. A hit by a small boy on our team translated into a successful double play by the opposition.
The cheering of this decidedly great play seemed questionably vociferous considering that it came at the expense of an eight-year-old child whose parents were sitting one row down. Parents from our team suggested unkindly that the opposing team’s parents should retire to their own sunny bleachers. Names were called. It was ugly—though probably not as much so as it had been the night before when another parent told me he’d seen a player and his grandparent ejected from the game for unsportsmanlike conduct.
I might not have liked the emotionally tone-deaf dork dad in the red polo shirt from the other team or his entitled, ponytailed wife in her Kenneth Cole shades and their shared, winner-take-all bullshit, but I could see something of myself in them, too. Pride in their child’s accomplishments had effectively disabled their ability to function sensitively and compassionately in polite company.
In the midst of all of yesterday’s spectator-generated unpleasantness, I had a hard time remembering why we’d put Roy into organized sports in the first place. As the level of competition continues to increase, I wonder if sandlots and pick-up games played out of sight of us overweening parents slouching through middle age aren’t the place for games like Roy’s ‘championship’, and if children’s sports aren’t just their own contrivance serving the nostalgic leanings of the parents who pay for them.∗