Thursday, July 26, 2012

Baseball 1981: The grand finale

As I've been typing these posts, including the one about me striking out to lose a game and the last one about my coach hitting the other team's coach in the face, I began to wonder -- if I hadn't struck out, and we had clinched a spot in the title game, would there have been as much tension that last game? Could the whole mess have been avoided? Maybe this was all my fault ...

The league held a meeting to see if Coach would be allowed to coach again and if the last game should have ended in a forfeit. Many of our team's parents, including mine, went to the Oriole Park field house to express their support for Coach -- a man they were comfortable and happy with coaching their kids. I went with my parents but waited outside, playing catch with 16-inch softball with one of my teammates. The meeting took a long time.

We didn't forfeit the game, and Coach wasn't kicked out of the league. The Astros would play the Giants for the championship at Thillens.

With a week between games, and the title game being our last game, Chris could pitch all six innings. He shut the Giants down. One of their pitchers got frustrated over what he thought were strikes but the umpire called as balls. After my slump from the past few games, I finally reached base one last time on a walk. We won. The championship was ours.

After the game, Coach gave us trophies for winning our division. We were surprised -- this wasn't something we thought Oriole Park did. Now, I think I understand: Coach had bought the trophies himself, worried we wouldn't be able to play for one because of him. And that's the mark of integrity and sincerity: Coach recognized his terrible mistake and determined that he would make it right for us if we were penalized because of it.

We got our official first-place trophy at awards dinner, held at a nice banquet hall on Cumberland Avenue a almost a month later. We encountered Frankie with a giant cast hanging off his right shoulder -- he had broken it after the season ended. This was the first time ever I tried spumoni (one of my teammates complained, but it wasn't bad). I received my individual trophy for being on a championship team.

Only one player from the Giants showed, even though they took second place. Even as 10-year-olds, we could tell it was sour grapes. The non-call on Chris' homer in the last game of the regular season aside, we won the championship game fair and square. No matter what their parents thought of the whole situation, they denied their kids a chance to be proud of their accomplishments and accepting their trophies.

The awards night ended. Summer was ending -- by my estimation (when we got back in the car, the White Sox's Dennis Lamp was throwing a no-hitter that the Brewers broke up; a little research revealed this was in late August), school started the next week. I stayed friends with Chris, and I'd see some of my teammates in school, but that night was probably the last time I saw about half of that team, including Frankie, whose family had moved to the suburbs. Also, I wouldn't play on the same baseball team as any of the guys again. Nevertheless, I remember this team more than any team I played on throughout grade school.

I've written before how 1981 was my favorite summer of my childhood. The is the summer I cling to when I try to milk as much of June, July and August as an adult. So much was great about that summer. The music, the video games, the movies, the fun times with friends. And the baseball. And especially the trophies.

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