Butterflies and boys of summer


THUS FAR it's safe to say that our Little League team, the Cubs, is having one hell of a fine season, especially if you don't count the time our catcher Matt got clocked in the nose with a relay throw, or the time our third baseman Sean R. took a one-hop grounder to the jaw, or the time one of our dads took a screaming foul ball to the forehead and needed stitches to close a gash the size of the Grand Canyon.

The problem is, they won't let us play with hockey masks in this league. So we've had to shake off these various injuries (easy for me to say; I haven't been hit -- yet) and ignore all those wailing ambulance sirens and just play ball.

At first I was a little leery of managing a team of 8- and 9-year-olds called the Cubs, owing to the dismal history of the Major League Chicago Cubs, who last won a World Series around the time of, oh, the Battle of Hastings.

Then our players started dropping like flies and we were drilled 8-1 in our season opener by the Dodgers and I thought: Well, that settles that. There's definitely something to this business about Cubs teams being cursed forever.

(That dad getting hit with the foul ball didn't send my confidence levels soaring either, I can tell you that. Forget about the paramedics, I thought. We need a witch doctor. Someone who knows his way around spells and incantations, that sort of thing. Someone handy with demons.)

Since our opener, however, we have played inspired ball and have barely needed the services of an ice pack, never mind a demonologist.

But if there's one thing we need to work on, it's in the area of concentration.

This was apparent again in a game against the Yankees when, with the score tied 3-3 in the bottom of the sixth inning, a quick glance at our defense revealed this: Our left fielder Bryan was chasing a butterfly. Our center fielder Justin was drop-kicking an imaginary wrestling opponent. Our right fielder Shane was making faces at someone.

The infield was equally alert. Jake, our third baseman, was doing some sort of dance routine from (I'm guessing) "A Chorus Line." Our shortstop Danny was doodling in the dirt with his spikes. Our second baseman Jamie was staring at his thumb and our first baseman Sean C. was adopting some sort of ninja warrior stance.

Hoo, boy. The only guy paying attention was our pitcher Dave, which was a good thing, since he was actually delivering the ball at the time.

Now, as manager, I would prefer more of a go-get 'em attitude from my team.

But I also understand that if you're standing out in left field and it's 90 degrees and you haven't had a ball hit to you all game and a butterfly happens by, hey, YOU'RE GOING TO CHASE THAT BUTTERFLY. It's human nature.

So I can't blame the kids. In fact, I almost chased that butterfly myself until one of our coaches, Lloyd, told me to knock it off and started chasing the butterfly himself.

Actually, our problems with concentration surfaced at our very first team meeting, when two of our coaches, Earl and Jim, were going over some basic ground rules and strategies.

"Any questions?" Jim asked after the short talk.

Jayson's hand shot into the air.

"Know who the meanest kid in our class is?" he said. (Yeah, you gotta love these deep, baseball-related discussions.)

Anyway, I took a wild guess and said Bobby Abudato, a sullen young thug I had coached in soccer who delighted in aiming kicks at the groins of opposing players.

But the meanest kid turned out to be a budding reform school candidate named Jimmy Horner who, to hear the other boys tell it, was shaking kids down for their M&M;'s and destined for an enforcer's role with the Gambino family.

Still, all our heavy talks about baseball paid off during our first win, a thrilling 3-2 decision over the Mets.

As I recall, we were batting in the top of the third, with the score tied 2-2 and runners on first and third, when Sean R. observed to Sean C.: "I could whip your butt in Super Mario Brothers 2."

This triggered yet another spirited baseball discussion that, if memory serves, went something like this:

"You could not!"

"I could too!"

"You could not!"

Next week maybe we'll hold practice at my place, fire up the Nintendo and settle this thing once and for all.

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