One last look at a special place in a special time

They will be putting the shovels in the ground soon to begin the construction of the YMCA’s Youth Baseball and Softball Complex. When they do, they will also shovel away a small part of my heart.

Please don’t get me wrong: I am all in favor of this project. Those who have made it happen are to be applauded and congratulated. It’s a giant step forward for youth sports in this area. Its potential is off the charts.

This didn’t just happen; it’s been in the works for quite some time. Knowing that, I knew I needed to take one last look at what it was before it becomes what it’s going to be.

The new facility will replace the existing Little League facility, which was built a little more than 30 years ago. Much has changed in youth baseball and softball and what Little League was that long ago hardly even resembles what it is now.

I was fortunate to be a part of Shreveport Little League during its heyday of the mid-to-late 1990s and even a few years afterward. On a personal level, I don’t exactly remember those years very fondly – we all have periods in our life when things aren’t exactly rosy – but being a part of what was going on at that facility brought me joy when I needed it most.

So I took one last walk through the Little League Complex while I could still see it for what it was. It was a very personal walk.

I still saw a T-ball game in which I realized it was next to impossible to keep five or six defensive players from all running after the ball at the same time … while the kid closest to the ball just stood there and watched.

I saw the spot where the coach of the opposing five-year-old team and I argued as to whether the final score was 23-21 or 22-21 (even though “we don’t keep score”). It got a little heated.

I saw the parking lot behind the left field fence where my father, who was getting on in years, sat in his lawn chair and watched his grandson play. It would be the last athletic event he would ever witness.

I saw the place on the Coach Pitch field, where the teenaged umpire, who had grown tired of my a-little-too-intense coaching style and was looking to get me in trouble, asked one of my players, “Does your coach ever hit you?” and the seven-year-old answered “Sure. All the time.”

Thankfully, before the arrest warrant was issued, it was realized that my player was innocently talking about how I would hit them with a ball when I was pitching and they couldn’t get out of the way. (You try pitching to a little bitty strike zone.)  Everyone had a good laugh. Me? Not so much.

I saw the right field foul pole on the Minor League field, where a 9-year-old hit what would have been the greatest home run in recorded history had it been two feet to the left of the pole instead of two feet to the right in the league championship game. Over the fence. Waaay over the fence. Definition of a long strike.

I saw the walkway behind the first base dugout, where I was sacking up the bats after we won a 12-year-old State Tournament semifinal playoff game against Alexandria and got cussed out by an opposing mom for having the gall to intentionally walk their team’s best player with two outs and a base open with the game on the line. (It worked, by the way.) “We are driving back tomorrow night and cheer for Lake Charles,” she told me. “I’ll save you a seat,” I told her.

(Spoiler alert: She never showed.)

I saw the coaching box where I stood in the final game of the State Championship game and couldn’t decide whether to run the first-and-third play in the bottom of the sixth inning with a trip to the Regionals in Florida on the line. While trying to figure out what time would be right, and a quick pop up and a ground out led to the heartache of leaving the tying run only 60 feet away from scoring. I’ve always wonder what would have happened if I had pulled the trigger.

And that’s about one percent of the memories I will take with me.

But what I saw most of all is the parking lot behind the center field fence – the Skybox – where we all gathered as 30-somethings to watch our kids play. We’d show up even when our own kids weren’t playing. Every night felt like another World Series game. Almost three decades later, hardly a day goes by when we don’t recall a game or, even better, an incident from those years.

Parents getting white-knuckled mad while grabbing the fence. Shortstops already crying before the ball had stopped rolling after it had gone through their legs. Umpires trying to explain the infield fly rule. Over-the-fence home runs. Left-handed catchers. Seeing a curveball for the first time.

They’ll take the current Little League facility and make it into something truly special. But what I’ll remember is also truly special. Maybe not the facility as much as the people who spent countless hours making countless memories.

I’m not sure who grew up more during that time – the Little Leaguers or me. 

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