The Politics of Little League baseball

My parents started me in T-ball at 4 years old. I can still remember the tryouts to this day. There were a bunch of us kids all standing in a line to hit a ball on the tee. I kept looking back at my parents, and I hit the ball as hard as I could on my turn. My first year in T-ball was probably embarrassing for any parent to watch. I ran from first base to third base while skipping second base often. I fought my teammates and I played catcher. I did not start, and I spent most of the time in the dugout with our coach. My brother would come into the league the next year, and my dad worked with us on our skills. Eight years later, we were some of the best players in the Baker Little League.

Most of the kids in the league were not good. We found out once we went to private school that many of the white people in the Baton Rouge area looked down on BLL.  They’d laughed when we brought it up and they claimed it wasnt real competition. The league was a mixed league, but most of the people were poor. The parents of our teammates were construction workers, garbage men, local cashiers, etc. Our parents were well educated, and my dad was lawyer. He’d come to practices or games with a nice white shirt and a tie on. Now looking back on it all, there may have been some jealousy there. He was very supportive, and my mom was as well. She was not as receptive of the BLL crowd. Mom wasn’t much for being around people she considered ghetto or redneck. Still, I don’t remember her missing a game. She typically had comments about the parent environment during the games that we didn’t recognize because we were on the field.


Now that I’ve given you a background, lets get on with this life-story:

I was 11 years old, and that was my last year of eligibility in Baker Little League. Me and my brother were some of the biggest kids in the league at that time. We were not just big. We were good. The running from first base to third base had been replace with singles, doubles, RBIs, and stolen bases. Every good player’s goal in BLL( Baker Little League) was to make the all star team. I had made the minor league all star team when I was nine. My younger brother seemed to have made it every other year. My dad worked with us in season and out of season to make us better players. My brother played third base, and I played first base.

In the major league, you played 16 games and the team with the most wins won the championship. The league saw a drop in registration over our last few years, and the league dropped from six teams to four. They were always trying to create ways to get more kids to sign up. My dad had a vision of the major league having 10 teams with fifteen kids each. He cared deeply, so he got involved. The league was ran by volunteers who were supposed to do it for free. Almost all of the volunteers were parents of children in the league. In my last year of eligibility, my dad was elected vice president of the league. He spent most of his evenings at the ballpark, and I liked him being vice president of the league. The league was in financial trouble, and the president of the league was arrested for stealing league money a year later.

My last year in the major league was my best year of baseball. All I could think about was the all star team. Around midseason, I could remember telling my dad that I had only counted 7 strike outs all season. I still remember him saying, ” Dont go and get the Big head now Dave, you doing good ,keep it up and hopefully you’ll make it”. He would continue, “there is politics in everything son.” I believed I was the best first basemen in the league, and I was one of the best pitchers. I had beat the second best team, the orioles, twice as a starting pitcher. I hit a homerun ball into the lake that year against the best team, the pirates, number 2 pitcher. It seemed like I was always on base, and I caught many pop ups. At the rate kids dropped fly balls in that league, Someone catching a fly ball was always good. Ground balls didn’t go between my legs, and I always felt I was a better second baseman than first baseman. I was so big at the time that they thought first base was my natural position.

The all star team was made up of 12 kids voted on by coaches and league volunteers. It was a very big deal to the kids and the parents. Just like everything in the league, the all star voting was plagued with corruption. Every year, there was a parent upset because their kid did not make the all star team. BLL all star teams had never made it far. They had state tournament appearances, but they never won a state title. BLL struggled year in and year out to make it out of the district tournament.

One night late in the season, my dad came home from a league meeting pertaining to the all star team. The president used to have a phrase, “If we dont pick the teams right, we’ll be two and barbecue”. She was referring to the double elimination style of the district tournament. An old respected volunteer in the league exclaimed, ” we should just go by the books when it comes to picking the players for the team”. His daughter quieted him down and said, ” pop be quiet or you’ll ruin tommy’s chance of making the all star team”. His grandson lived across the street from us and he was one of the better players in the league. When my dad came home with that story, it began to open my eyes to pure corruption/politics of the league.

Ah, yes. The books. Every team had a team mom. The team mom was responsible for getting uniform sizes, calling parents to let them know of schedule changes, etc. The most important job the team mom had was keeping up with the stat book. She recorded all the hits, strikeouts, errors, etc. Those books were what pops meant when he made his statement at the meeting. When my dad came back with that story, I could not help but dwell on why they would not put the best players on the all star team. I soon learned that it was all politics.

The year ended strong for our team. I finished my last season strong. I saw three players on our team who deserved to make the all star team, and I saw one kid who would make it because his dad was our head coach. His dad was also the head umpire of the league. We had the best player in the league on our team. He was a tall black kid named denny. We had a really good short stop whose dad was an assistant coach, and we had me. I assumed that us four would make the all star team. Three of those four did, and one kid was left off.

The closing ceremony of the season had all of the kids standing in the outfield in uniform getting trophies. They used an intercom to call off awards for certain kids who won MVP, all star teams and the most improved awards. We kids mostly talked through that. We all got quiet to hear the all star voting. The crappy players had hope of making it because they knew their parents had been kissing ass all season. The good players had overwhelming confidence of making it because of their skill. Every year there was a kid crying who had to consoled by their parents because they did not make the all star team.

Having gone through this several times, I knew they called off the names in alphabetical order. Once they passed the J’s, I knew that I wasnt going to be on that year’s all star team.  Denny came to me sometime afterward and said, ” man they messed over you david”. It meant a lot coming from the best player in the league. My dad brought me to the table next to the concession stand, and he gave me his politics speech right next to the woman who was voted all star team head coach . She smoked a cigarette next to us in the sunset of the evening while he spoke to me. I remember his words, “life isnt fair son, there is politics in everything, you were one of the best players in the league this season, you were one of the best pitchers in the league, you should have been on that team, hold your head high and stick your chest out.”

I was angry about not making the team the rest of the summer. BLL hosted the tournament, and my parents did not want me going to any games to cause a scene. They told me to sit and be quiet. They did not want me rooting for other teams, but that was exactly what I did. Despite my frustration, BLL won their first district tournament in about 20 years. I wasnt satisfied until I heard that they were eliminated in the first round of the state playoffs.

My dad resigned his vice president post for my brother’s last year in the league. He said he it was a lot on him to keep up with BLL while trying to run a law practice. I really think that the corruption/politics of the league wore him down. He did not show it much, but he was very upset that I did not make the all star team that year. He expressed his anger to us about it years later. My brother’s last season was his best. He was the best player on his team and one of the best in the league. After his final season, he was also left off of the all star team roster. We showed up to the all star tournament that year as well and watched them get eliminated in their first three games. They pushed the age limit up an extra year, but my brother declined to play again in BLL. We were done with them as a family.

My dad waited years later to tell me how that all star voting meeting went. The way he described it was as if parents had made deals with other parents to get their kids votes for the all star team. People voted for kids based on a variety of different reasons. Mostly, the voters voted for kids whose parents they liked the most. Skill and performance did not matter as much as who you were related to.

Me and my brother discussed our BLL saga about two years ago. He told me not to dwell on it, and he had no respect for parents who would screw over children for their own egos. BLL is closed down now because of financial and legal troubles. Every time I pass the old ball park, the memories come back. That was the first but certainly not the last time in my young life that I felt the full wrath of the good old boy network. I would soon learn that politics and sports went hand and hand on every level I played. I would go on to be screwed over several times in life. Its one of the reasons that I live my life with a chip on my shoulder. Maybe one day, some of those other stories will get shared on this blog as well.

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