Results 1 to 3 of 3
  1. #1
    TTM Advisor

    Join Date
    Jun 2010
    SCF Rewards
    Cleveland Indians Pittsburgh Penguins Boise State Broncos

    Tales of a Little League Washout, Part III

    Tales of a Little League Washout, Part III: Ending Before It Started
    By Drew Pelto, AKA *censored*

    Drewís Note: Originally I intended this series to conclude on March 25, the day before MLB Opening Day 2020. Instead, we have no baseball to watch, much like where this series left off during the 1994 strike. But this time, thereís no playing ball ourselves to make up for it. Didnít see that coming when Part I was posted up...

    I ran into our coach at a card show with my dad the next January at the local community college. The major leaguers were still on strike, but that didnít mean we couldnít keep on playing. Coach said he wasnít sure yet what was going to happen except that he was planning to still be leading us. Apparently a lot of the previous yearís players hadnít signed up to return both for us and one other team; even his own son was questionable in his interest. There should have been about seven or eight of us who would be eligible to return next season. I later learned only three of us came back. The league at least kept us updated: there was talk of combining the two teams for a while, but leaving it at 9 teams would be tough on scheduling. A few weeks later, I heard from my third coach in three years. The league held a dispersal draft of the Piratesí and Giantsí players. The Cardinalsí coach remembered seeing me as a catcher against them, so they snapped me up to go behind the plate.

    It felt weird when I was told that: I was usually the kid who was last picked at recess, mostly due to it being a popularity contest, and I was not. But here I was: actually wanted!

    Our new coaches were different: both player parents, and this time with the ďmy son is awesomeĒ mentality that pervades far too many Little League dads. One of them, his kid could play well. Good fielder, a rare switch hitter, played second, first, catcher, and pitcher. The other played first base and pitched, had a below-average bat, and would likely have been a bench guy if he hadnít been a lefty and the coachís kid. Instead he was on the Division All-Star Team at least twice.

    I also got glasses in the offseason, which is a killer for a catcher. If I had a wild pitch or passed ball, I used to whip off the mask and helmet combo and chase it down. Ditto on a pop-up. But now if I did this, Iíd lose the glasses with it. My parents wouldnít let me get contacts, so my choices were either never lose the mask, play without glasses, or not catch anymore. Good luck getting the third option to happen: that was my favorite and best position. I played a few games without them which was fine as long as the pitcherís control was good and the batter didnít send one straight up. For the most part, I just had to deal with not losing the mask. My jersey number switched to 1, which felt weird. But we didnít have a number 3 jersey and I was sick the day of number selection, so my choices were 1, 50, 51, or 52. Gross. In a moment of irony, I actually now wear 52 as a floorball goalie.

    Overall, our team was a disaster. We had only one twelve-year-old on the team in this 9-12 league, plus a coach in only his first season, so it should have been clear that we would struggle. Our lone home run was hit by a kid I had previously played T-Ball with: blooping one down the line, landing fair, and rolling toward the fence where the inattentive right fielder couldnít find it until it was too late and he beat the first basemanís throw home. It was one of three hits on the season for him. We finished 2-16, and the one thing that kept us out of last was the fact we had a huge comeback on the eventual 1-17 Mets. They were up on us 13-2 in the fourth inning of a game. About to get mercy ruled, we needed two runs in our half of the inning to keep it alive, with me leading off. I walked and came around to score, so we were off to a nice start.

    As I waited on deck for what would have been my third plate appearance of the inning, we finally made the third out. 12 runs had crossed the plate and we had even left the bases loaded. With time running out due to the second game needing to get underway on our field, we took home a 14-13 victory. I donít remember our other win that year at all, but I do remember one we could have wonÖ

    Itís not often that Little League games go 9 innings. Typically six, some can end after as few as four for darkness or mercy rules. But we had battled the Jets for seven innings one night, having to call the game due to darkness. With the tie, we picked up where we left off a few weeks later. I had started the game in left field, being lifted in the fifth for a substitution. Little League rules allow a starter to return to the same spot in the batting order, and when we got to the ninth down a run, my original spot in the order was coming around again. And with two outs and a runner on first and the light hitter who replaced me coming up, Coach told me to grab a bat.

    Thatís right: a guy who would go on to hit .100 on the season pinch-hitting, solely since thatís slightly higher than the guy who finished with a .000 mark.

    The first pitch was in the dirt for a ball, the second pitch caught the inside corner to go 1-1. Coach put on the steal sign; I swung, missed, and the throw to second was in time, out number three, and the weight was off my shouldersÖ until the second baseman dropped the ball on the tag. So the umpire comes back, says the count is 1-1. I took the next pitch on the outside corner for a strike, which he called strike two. The other team complains, and he says ďOh, correction, youíre right, thatís strike three,Ē and the game is over. Had he correctly said the count was 1-2, my approach would have gone a different way.

    That third season felt different. Part of the problem was that I was a league veteran who never knew any of my teammates outside of practices and games. Itís one thing to know no one your first year; but totally different when itís your third. I went to a private school and only one of my classmates played (on the Dodgers). Whereas most of my teammates and even our opponents all knew a lot of each other from school, I never did, so I was always a bit of an outsider. Even my former Pirates teammates were almost nowhere to be seen that season. I only remember seeing one as he came to the plate while I was catching: oddly enough, it was that catcher that I passed on the opening day depth chart. He ended up catching and playing third for the Chiefs.

    Baseball was losing my interest as a player, even somewhat as a fan. The strike eventually ended during that season, and my beloved Indians even went to the World Series. But it was the first season that my favorite player, Cory Snyder, was out of the game, exiled to AAA with the Red Sox and Padres organizations. I barely bought any 1995 cards at all after having most of the 1992 Topps, 1993 Donruss, and 1994 Topps sets. And I just wasnít improving as a player at all. Sure going from .000 to .045 to .100 is an improvement, but not at the level I had hoped. I enjoyed pitching in the 1994 season, but when I told our coach that I used to pitch a bit with the Pirates his answer was an uninterested ďOh yeah? Thatís cool.Ē It would seem that going 2-16 should have been a perfect time to maybe try us at other positions, experiment with what the players wanted to try, and work on future development.

    Reluctantly, I played a fourth season, and it was clear that my heart just wasnít in it anymore. I was relegated mostly to outfield play that season, with less behind the plate, and almost none at short and second. And somehow getting among the last choices of jerseys despite being among the vets, I was stuck wearing 51. A new kid on the team had his dad complain to the coach midway through the season that he used to catch in his previous league and should be catching on this team. And he did, at which point I was relegated almost solely to outfield duty. I asked my parents if they could let the coaches know I used to pitch since they didnít listen to me. They wouldnít do it.

    Even in early season practices, they closely watched four potential pitchers. Two others of us asked if we could try pitching. They didnít even bother watching us throw for more than two pitches each. We were getting blown out in a game, 11-0 in the third, and as I sat on the bench I thought I might finally get to get back on the mound. Coach called ďAndy, youíre pitching,Ē and as I grabbed my glove he said ďNo, not you, the other Andy,Ē putting in a backup outfielder who could barely get the ball from the mound to the plate while I sat there stewing.

    Coaches trusted my opinion though as a veteran of the league. A few times on the bench, I was actually asked my thoughts on some strategic decisions: whether to bunt, or steal, or even in changing pitchers. I may never have had the skill, but at least mentally I was as sharp as anyone.

    I donít remember what our record was that final season: I didnít really care at that point. I know we placed third in the Division which put us in the playoffs. I remember winning our playoff game against the second-place Dodgers, then losing to the annually-stacked Browns. And I remember I didnít start a single one of our last four games. I actually hit .150 that year, but being 12 and barely able to make contact meant that I may as well just forget it at this point: being a great glove guy means nothing if you donít have a bat. 1996 was my last year of organized baseball. My playing interests moved on to soccer and basketball in 1996-1998 and hockey and indoor soccer in high school and college.

    Clearly I was destined to be a big fish in a small pond when it came to the game. When weíd play anything baseball-like in gym class or after school, I was a masher at the plate and could field well at any position. Iíd be the only one whacking home runs. In the Emerson College Wiffleball League, I was a .400 hitter, a Cy Young nominee, and an All-Star. In our summer lob-pitched pickup baseball games in college, I hit over .400 as a second baseman. But in organized, competitive baseball, I was little more than a roster filler.

    Few of us in Painesvilleís history ever made it very far in the sport. Katherine Gurley, who eventually was on the US Womensí National Baseball Team, rolled through the American Division with the Red Sox while I avoided having to face her playing in the National; I previously alluded to Jamie Walczak and his time in the Redsí org; and aside from that we only had a handful of eventual minor leaguers across the entire county, none of whom played at the same time I did. Even if you go back through all of baseball history, there was just Marvin Hawley, who pitched seven innings for the Boston Beaneaters as a 19-year-old; Ed Andrews, who led the National League in stolen bases in 1886; and Tommy Atkinsí 15 games in 1910 for the Philadelphia Aís among Lake County natives making it into the majors.

    I thought about playing league softball for a while, but the few people I know who play around here take it far too seriously. Iím at a point where I just want to have fun playing and no one cares about taking home a championship. My current place of employment had a team for a while, but when they started bringing in ringers to preserve their undefeated status instead of actual employees who wanted to play, I knew it wasnít for me. One member of my department who is a reasonably good athlete played a few games as a substitute-- they stuck him at catcher, batted him last, and he told me he didnít even know half the team because they didnít work here.

    I think getting away from playing actually got me back to being more of a fan. Baseball was no longer something that I was actively failing at and hating about myself, but something I could just watch and appreciate from the outside. And I could appreciate it at any level: majors, minors, Iíll even watch college softball and the Little League World Series on TV. I got back into buying cards again with the 1996 Fleer and 1997 Collectors Choice sets, and now doing a lot of autograph collecting. But Iím perfectly happy only playing baseball, softball, or wiffleball in pickup games. And even that I havenít done in eight years.

    I donít know any of my teammates now; I could name maybe two-thirds of them by full name, and havenít talked to any since that final season. Once in a while I look some of them up on Facebook, but I doubt any of them would remember me. My old coach with the Cardinals and I have both commented on the same posts in a Facebook group dedicated to Painesvilleís past and I donít think he recalls me playing for him.

    Through four seasons I managed to hit .077-- thatís six hits, all singles, in 78 at-bats. I did at least draw about 70 walks. The positions I played most were, in order, catcher, second base, left field, shortstop, right field, pitcher, and center field.
    This Ad will be removed when you a member of

    That Frank Viola model mitt served me well for fifteen years. It broke a lace in a pickup game in the summer of 2005 and is now sitting in a Rubbermaid bin in my apartment, along with a Rawlings first basemanís mitt and a Wilson fielders glove that I bought on an emergency basis that summer. If I was still playing, Iíd fix the lacing and still use it: it did its job well and still fits. I may actually need to fix it up: my wife and I have a friend who loves her hometown Kansas City Royals, but she never learned to catch or throw a baseball. Provided we donít all succumb to COVID-19, she wants me to teach her once the weather cools down after yet another 100+ degree Texas summer thatís approaching rapidly.

    The line of Pelto boys playing for the Pirates likely will end with me: I turn 36 next month and my wife and I donít plan on having any kids. Even if we do, it seems plenty of Little League teams donít use MLB names these days: one of our local leagues has teams like the Owls, Knights, Warriors, and Express. In the latter years of my time living in Painesville, all the teams had sponsor names only: Bertoneís Sunoco 7, Falconeís Convenient Mart 5. Itís all about travel teams now, to the point that anything else is wrongfully viewed as a waste of time and money.

    But shouldnít fun, recreation, and learning the game be enough of an incentive to play at any level?

    Coaching parents, if thereís one thing I can impart to you itís that your child is not the next Willie Mays. Also, there are another 14 players on that team besides him. You are there to coach ALL of them and to make sure theyíre learning and enjoying their time playing the sport. Remember what I said about the lack of Painesville natives in pro ball? Thereís a good chance your town is no better. Take a moment and read Hal Lebovitzís August 23, 1964 article ďDid You Ever Cut A Boy?Ē Itís about football, but it applies to every sport quite well.

    Non-coaching parents, stay involved. Encourage your kids to play on any team they can and in any sport they want to try. Watch the practices and games. Work on skills outside of practice. Teach them to play anywhere and everywhere on the field: we had a few kids who only played one or two positions, whereas I played everywhere except third base at some point. You never know if messing around in the backyard as a catcher might come in handy someday for your second baseman. Equip them well, but donít go overboard with top-of-the-line gear. But also remember that you arenít the coach: let the coach do his job. More than anything, make sure your kids are enjoying it and that theyíre playing because they want to play. Your kids are more likely to end up like me than like Mike Trout. Make sure they can look back on their time in their favorite sports as a positive. Read another Lebovitz column, May 29, 1972ís ďWhose Game Is It?Ē

    Those columns from the late Hal Lebovitz can be read in the book The Best of Hal Lebovitz: Great Sportswriting from Six Decades in Cleveland. Theyíre the first two in the book and among the most important writing he did in his career. And you can read those two (and more) free via the Google Books link above.

    Former players, itís your turn. Take that trip down memory lane. Whatís your history? The good, the bad, the mundane, letís hear your stories in the comments.

    ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Drew Pelto may have been terrible between the foul lines, but he will destroy you at 2000/2001 MLB Showdown. He currently lives in Arlington, TX with his wife and two cats who play defense rivaling that of Dick Stuart.

  2. #2

    Join Date
    Jan 2012
    SCF Rewards
    Chicago Bears Chicago Cubs Chicago Bulls
    See jplcom's Items on eBay Traders

    Those were some good reads, thanks for writing! My little league career lasted for two seasons when I was, oh, 3rd and 4th or 4th and 5th grade. One year played for the Royals, another year the Angels. As a catcher I dropped almost every ball and my first fly ball in the outfield dropped right in front of me. To this day I can't judge fly balls worth a darn. At the plate I was pretty atrocious, mostly a strikeout or walks/HBP type. I did nail a decent line drive once. Football was more my speed but that's a story for another venue.

  3. #3
    Baseball Advisor

    Join Date
    Sep 2014
    SCF Rewards
    Pittsburgh Steelers Baltimore Orioles Philadelphia Phillies

    Love this
    Please bare with me sometimes my work schedule changes in a matter of minutes.Trade list is currently a work in progress if you don't see anything please ask.

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