It features competition for every age group in both softball and baseball. But the most endearing feature of Minster’s weekend tournament is the process of learning…to play, to have fun, and to respect the other team.
It’s a time a lot of us remember – that first year of playing organized baseball. Author Grantland Rice once called it a rite of boyhood.
The nerves, the uncertainty, intimidation…and of course, uniforms that didn’t fit.
Mostly, for me, at twelve, it was the game, yes, but after the game…that was just as much fun. We would all pile in coach Eddie Hardy’s brand new ’64 cherry red Ford Galaxy convertible, top down, for a trip to Pat Davenport’s hamburger shack – Pat’s Place – where ‘burgers were a quarter and all the pop you could drink to wash them down.
As I remember now, no one much cared about the score, just the moments. What we remembered were the moments…when A.J. Owens hit the first home run (out of the park) in the history of our league. Getting three hits in a game. The time we actually turned a 6-4-3 double play, and then talked about it in the fifth grade that fall until Christmas.
There was the time when pitcher Bobby Wilson got hit square between the eyes with a line drive with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning. The ball caromed straight up in the air, ten feet high, while Bobby coolly waited on it to come down, and caught it for the final out of our only win that year.
It all came back as I watched the eight-year-olds play Wednesday night in Minster, the opening act of that community’s weekend-long love affair with youth baseball and softball…for as long as most can remember, from as far away as most can remember – Warren to Portsmouth. It’s always been there, as much a part of summer as mosquitoes and humidity. Pack your cooler, a growler for Grandma, and go to the ballpark. The kids are playing baseball.
More impressively, the kids are learning to play baseball, especially the young ones. And not just the kids, but the adults – a lot of dads – who devote their time and patience to the process of teaching little boys about a game that they so desperately want to master.
Ah, to be like Elly De La Cruz!
“He’s the fastest man in the world,” one said to a teammate Wednesday while warming up. “Honest, he said he was the fastest man in the world. He stole home plate!”
And can you imagine what the fastest man in the world meant when you were eight years old?
Kurt Rammel, from New Bremen, and Cory Albers, from Marion Local carefully steered their respective De La Cruz ‘wanna-bes’ through six innings of jubilation, mistakes, frustration, failure, and personal triumph – plays made and plays missed. The heart-felt joy of cheering for a teammate. Winning one minute, then the helplessness that comes when the other team does to you what you just did to them.
Only, they learned. You could see them grow from one inning to the next. Rammel, who coaches with Chad Wells at New Bremen High School, and Albers, who smiles a lot while having the patience of Job…watched, corrected, encouraged, and shared lots of ‘coach-speak’. Trailing 16 to 7 in the bottom of the final inning, Rammel told his young Cardinals, “We can’t lose if no one makes the final out.”
There were eight-year-old highlights that rivaled those from Tuesday night’s All-Star game in Seattle.
Marion Local shortstop Parker Moeller coolly made one play after another – fielding, throwing, tagged out a runner at second base, and roped a line drive 180 feet to the base of the outfield fence.
New Bremen shortstop Nathan Rammel, the son of the coach, had a pair of hits and a pair of good instinct plays on defense.
Michael Kramer, lashed a hit to the gap in left field, and eventually made it to third base before having to rescue his pants.
And the Cardinals’ Noah Garman took a mighty swing in the bottom of the fifth, and knocked the ball clear out of the park, his first ‘real’ home run, and was cheered like Babe Ruth by his teammates when he touched home plate.
But alas, someone did make the final out, New Bremen and Kurt Rammel came up short, 16-7; but chalk one up to the process. No one was stigmatized, everyone was smiling, and eager to play again this weekend.
“Patience is important,” said Marion’s Cory Albers. “You have kids that range in all levels of ability, but they’re interested, and when they’re interested it makes it a whole lot easier to teach them. Sometimes you have to be patient, but it’s fun to see them learn. To see them grow. It’s hard to see them [screw up], but you have to remember that they’re only eight years old. You have to remind yourself when you compare them to the major leaguers…why can’t they do this, or why can’t they do that? You just have to remember who your coaching.”
Rammel, who both played and coached at Tiffin University, smiles at the irony of now teaching from the ground up.
“We try to remind the kids all the time, even at the high school level, that there are only so many things you can control in the game,” he says. “There’s going to be things happen – bad hops, the wind, there’s so many things that can happen in baseball. And all we ask of them is to control what you can control, and give a good effort. Play hard, and play with energy, and the let the outcome take care of itself. But it does take patience…when the ball’s not bouncing your way.”
But every now and then…that moment like the one when Noah Garman hit one over the fence!
“And that’s what it’s all about,” smiled Rammel. “Regardless of the score at the end, at this level it’s all about the excitement for the kids, to have an experience like that. That’s the game of baseball, and hopefully it inspires them to keep playing, right on through high school. Because at that point in the game today, the kids had no idea what the score was. They were just excited for Noah.”
A.J. Owens was our Noah Garman back in 1964, hitting the only home run of the season to help us to our only win, and then afterwards we celebrated that home run while we all rubbed the knot on Bobby Wilson’s forehead. You could count the seams.
I remember it well, like I remember Eddie Hardy and his ’64 Galaxy. Kudos to him, Cory Albers and Kurt Rammel…for teaching us all about life, and fun, through baseball.
And ‘burgers at Pat’s Place. $5, including tip, fed the whole team.