Results 1 to 2 of 2
  1. #1
    TTM Advisor

    Join Date
    Jun 2010
    SCF Rewards
    Cleveland Indians Pittsburgh Penguins Boise State Broncos
    Twitter: @DFWGrapher Instagram:

    Tales of a Little League Washout, Part II

    Tales of a Little League Washout, Part II: Organized Beginnings
    By Drew Pelto, AKA *censored*

    For my first few years, my only baseball mitt was a toy, faux-leather fielders glove. Despite its stiffness and near-plastic smoothness I was able to learn to catch and field plastic ball grounders on the cement driveway really well. Finally at either Christmas 1990 or my birthday in 1991, I got a real one: a Spalding 42-547 Frank Viola model. We missed the 1991 T-Ball sign ups by two days, but finally in the summer of 1992 I was on the field, number 11 for the Leonbruno Insurance T-Ball team at age 8.

    Painesville at that time had a weird age divide for baseball: T-Ball was age 6-8; Major League was age 9-12, Senior League was 13-15, and Big League was 16-18, with a similar age bracket for girls’ softball. They’ve gotten smarter since then and now have it set to T-Ball at age 4-5, Coach Pitch 6-7, Minor 8-9, Major 10-12, Junior 13-14, and Senior 15-16. It’s a major shock going from hitting off a tee to facing a kid throwing over 60 mph from only 45 feet away: for those who are not mathematically inclined, that’s requiring the same reaction time as facing 80 mph or more from MLB distance. It’s much better to have a coach or machine pitch step in between, followed by facing pitching from those who are your actual peers. There’s a huge gap, both physically and mentally, between a 9 year-old hitter entering the batter’s box for the first time and a 12-year old pitcher who has been doing it for two to three years prior.

    Learning to field with a cheap glove that could barely close using a smooth plastic ball on hard cement made fielding with a real glove, real ball, and slower dirt field a breeze. Our T-Ball team had something like 15 players; everyone had a spot in the batting order with 11 fielders at a time and you’d often change positions almost every inning with only a few exceptions, like the left-handed kid always playing at first and the amazing fielder always playing at shortstop. Often you’d end up with two to four players on the bench when your team was in the field. I typically ended up playing second, rover, and pitcher, with the occasional inning at first or left-center. I remember my first game against the Painesville Firefighters taking a line-drive off my arm from their biggest player, a kid known simply as Big T. Seriously, we were the same agehe may have even been youngerand I think he had a foot and 100 pounds on me. That single debut play ended up being a parable for my baseball career: “Hey this kid’s got some potentialoooh, wow, that ended badly.”

    We went 4-12 that year: it took us until our fourth game to win or for me to even get a hit—in which I accidentally did what was done to me weeks earlier, lining one off a kid who would go on to be a teammate of mine in Little League a few years later. That win came against a team my family had tried to get me on since it was coached by a neighbor, so it was fun to beat them. I even had the walk-off game-winning RBI via a ground out. Despite the inauspicious start, I had fun, and that’s what T-Ball is supposed to be about. I got my name in the paper three times that year which I thought was the coolest thing ever, and I couldn’t wait to get to play real baseball the next year.

    In the offseason, my dad built a target on the back of our garage out of some 2-by-4s, painting it with leftover house paint to match, and outlining a rulebook-accurate strike zone on it. I could throw tennis balls off of it and work on fielding some more, and even try my hand at pitching and know what was a strike versus a ball without a catcher or umpire being needed.

    I’ve been told that when the Painesville Little League established itself in the 1960s, it had three divisions (American, National, and Eastern) with eight teams each; each team had 15 players, and played 21 games. By the time the 90s hit, it was scaled back to two divisions with ten teams each; each team typically had 12-13 players, and played 18 games. Painesville City and Fairport Harbor kids were put in the American Division, while Painesville Township, Concord, and Leroy kids went to the National Division.

    Little League was the first time I’d ever had to go to tryouts for a sport—mostly since it was only the second year I ever played anything. We all were guaranteed a spot on a team; it was just a question of which team and how much playing time you’d get. It took place in early March in the gym of the local high school with the coaches all watching us throw, then bat with lobbed tennis balls, field, even pitch a little, and then draft us. I remember having a good day out there; granted, a tennis ball shoots off an aluminum bat like crazy, so my offensive skills probably appeared much better than they actually were.

    I don’t know what round I was drafted in, but a couple weeks later, we got a call about my team and first practice: I ended up the third generation of Pelto to be on a team called the Pirates.

    Immediately the “Hey this kid’s pretty good… err, wait, no” struck again. In my number 3 jersey I fielded anything hit at me, and mostly played second base and the corner outfield spots. At the plate, I went 0-for-16 with 16 strikeouts. I did at least walk 18 times, stole a few bases, scored a few runs, and managed a couple RBI from a walk and a hit-by-pitch with the bases loaded. I even started a few games at second, rare for a nine-year-old. Our first baseman didn’t trust me early on. One game he ran over to pick off every grounder headed toward me, until eventually he missed one and I had to eat it since no one was covering first. Coach gave him an earful.

    I often questioned that first baseman’s brain power. Besides the selfishness and distrust in fielding, in one game he got easily thrown out trying to advance on a ball that the opposing first baseman dropped and had roll about 10 feet from him, with our first base coach screaming “NO NO NO” as he took off running, thinking he had heard “GO GO GO.” He led the team mashing six homers: it would have been seven but he failed to touch first base on one, making it nothing more than an over-the-fence fly out. Later in that game, our shortstop hit a home run and literally jumped on each base with both feet—not sure if he was trying to show the first baseman how it was done or making sure the umpire was aware that he touched each base. Maybe both.

    Our coach actually knew what he was doing, and even though his son was on the team, he didn’t treat the team as being his kid’s starring stage with the rest of us as his lesser supporting cast. He even got kicked out of a game for questioning the strike zone of the umpire, which honestly was terrible: that umpire was not asked to return the next season.

    Most Little Leagues have a rule that siblings get put on the same team. Not ours: while we did have two brothers on our team that year and the following year, we also had a player whose younger brother played for the Dodgers, and another whose younger brother was a Cardinal. Of course, the best trio of brothers ever to come through the league all ended up on the same squad over a ten-year span: just coincidence that they won the division every year, I’m sure. Of that trio, the youngest one ended up pitching in the Reds organization for six years and tossed a no-hitter for Sussex County in the CanAm League, while the other two brothers seemed to hit about .750 every year with 92 homers while pitching 38 no-hitters and throwing out 120% of would-be base stealers.

    At the very least, I suppose didn’t look terrible: there were five of us nine-year-olds on the team, we all were sub-.200 hitters that first year, and at least three of us went 0-for-season. I could field, I could get on base, so I had something to build upon going into season number two.

    As another March rolled around, we got a call from a new coach, which I expected: our previous coach’s son aged out so we knew he likely wouldn’t return. But aside from that, it was the same Pirates team, same teammates for the most part, and as the snow melted away practices started anew. We had two catchers going into the season, and one day at practice we had one of them pitch, so the coach asked the other one to get behind the plate. He kind of hemmed and hawed about it, so I said if he didn’t want to, I’d do it. I always wanted to catch but never had the chance until that moment.

    A month later, on my tenth birthday, I was the starting opening day catcher.

    I looked ridiculous. I got my number 3 back again, but the catching gear was all one-size fits all, which meant it didn’t. Again, I was always small for my age anyway, so wearing catching gear that was probably adult size wasn’t exactly optimal. I’d crouch and the chest protector would balloon out between the bottom of the mask and the top of my thighs. The tops of the shin guards went to mid-thigh. Fortunately I had some shin guards that I got at a garage sale that fit much better—so much so that for the next three years, every other catcher on my teams asked to borrow them on days when I was playing elsewhere in the field.
    This Ad will be removed when you a member of

    I remember sitting in the dugout getting the gear on to warm up our occasionally-catching pitcher on opening day when the other catcher came in. He sits down and says “Man, you stole my position.” I shrugged and said “Guess you should have done what coach said then, huh?” He didn’t have an answer for that, but he got over it quickly too. We ended up having a three-man split behind the plate most of that year. He got his time, I got mine, as did the one who was pitching in practice that day. In the last game, being well out of playoff contention, all the 12-year olds who were aging out got to play any position they wanted to. One shortstop/pitcher caught a couple innings, one outfielder pitched three innings, the pitcher/catcher played first, and the other two just chose to stay with their more normal positions.

    Our coach knew a guy who used to catch in the Indians organization back in the 70s and brought him in to help coach a game when the assistant coach was out of town. He offered me one piece of advice I never forgot: shin guards seem to be able to be used on either leg, but they’re not. Make sure the buckles are on the outside of the leg. He once saw another catcher on one of his teams run to back up first base, catch the shin guard buckles on each other because he had them on the inside, and fall flat on his face, knocking out a couple teeth.

    Our coach this year was again a player parent that had no delusions of grandeur about his son, who hit about as well as I did my first year. The kid even took a fastball off the helmet from the league’s hardest throwing pitcher (who clearly had limited control as he had hit me in the back both that year and the year before). What I liked though was that he gave us all chances to prove ourselves at almost anything we wanted to try on the field. I played every position except first and third that season, even pitching 11 innings, entirely in relief: no wins, no losses, and one save thanks to a game being too dark to finish. Once I got brought into a bases loaded, no out jam in the first inning of a game (our starter walked the first four hitters) and got out of it only allowing one hit that drove in two.

    I was still close to useless at the plate. I did manage to make fair contact in my second game of the season, grounding out, but I still was mostly a strikeout-or-walk hitter. Midseason against the Dodgers, I finally got my first hit, off the aforementioned brother of my previous year’s teammate. This was no cheapie either, but rather a lined shot up the middle into center. It was the first time where making contact felt like it was supposed to. Every other ground out, fly out, foul ball, I could feel it in my hands, the reverberation of the aluminum as the shockwaves enter your phalanges and metacarpals and make you step out of the box and shake them out. With that hit, nothing. I swung, heard the ping of contact, saw the ball flying, and took off toward first with a sigh of relief. It was the only hit I managed all year; I had a bunt single taken away weeks later by an umpire who called a ball that was touched by the third baseman on the foul line as foul, striking out on the next pitch.

    Eventually, that summer of 1994 killed baseball for a bunch of us. My family flew up North that summer for the first time, having typically driven. The weather in the Upper Peninsula was unusually dreary that week, with fog and some rain, but just clear enough that my dad and I could still throw the ball around outside the motel a couple times. But that poor weather where baseball started for my family seemed like an omen of a coming delay: weeks later, I watched from my other grandmother’s house in Lower Michigan as the major leaguers went on strike, leaving us in the lurch as to whether we would ever see the pros play again.

    To be continued…
    The finale, Part III, will come next week
    Last edited by *censored*; 03-12-2020 at 04:24 PM.

  2. #2
    Assistant General Manager

    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    SCF Rewards
    Blog Entries

    Thanks for the story. A nice read.

    Great Prices on soft sleeves and top loaders!

    Standard Soft sleeves .75 each , Thick Soft Sleeves $1 each, Top Loaders 60 point $2.75 each, Top Loaders 100 point $4, Top Loaders 140 points $2.50 each, Top Loaders 190 point $1.75 each, Top Loaders 240 point $2 each. Prices do not include shipping!!

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
SCF Sponsors

About SCF

    Sports Card Forum provides sports and non-sports card collectors a safe place to discuss, buy, sell and trade.

    SCF maintains tools that will allow collectors to manage their collections online, information about what is happening with the hobby, as well as providing robust data to send out for Autographs through the mail.

Follow SCF on