The Last Championship

Brendan O’Meara’s dad never missed a Little League game. Twenty years later, Brendan can return the favor: his dad is the star of a seniors-only softball team.

The Cotuit fog crawled across the outfield. It beaded on the aluminum bats in the dugout, created an oil-slick dew on the outfield grass, and blocked out the sun.

A ball pinged off the bat and skimmed into right field, where it dropped onto the grass. The fellow I was there to see bent down gingerly to retrieve the ball. He lobbed it into the infield, a low-curving parabola.

The smiles, the cheer, the way ball caps flipped off their heads while sprinting into the wind. To be out between those lines again …

The problem was, for this league, I was 35 years too young.

♦♦♦

My father, Walter, has been retired for five years now. He loves it.

And to keep himself occupied when he isn’t taking trash to the curb, he plays a little bit of golf and a lot of slow-pitch softball.

Dad, like most American boys, played baseball growing up. A catcher, he used a Roy Campanella signature double-hinge mitt. I remember its cracked leather and its weight, about as heavy as a bowling ball. He would catch for the Air Force while stationed in Germany during the Vietnam War. He never played pro ball, but he likes to boast about the pro players who once asked him where he played minor league.

Baseball was the torch he passed to me. I became a shortstop with Dad watching and coaching all the way. Once, in my senior year of high school, down 6-4, two outs, two men on, last inning, I came to the plate and hit a high and outside fastball over the centerfield fence. As I rounded second with my fist in the air, Dad stood on the sidelines with his arms splayed in a V over his head. I’ve never forgotten it.

Now I’ve passed the torch as well—back to my father.

It was a welcome opportunity to watch Dad play in the manner he had spent watching me: those times from when I was seven, with little ability, to when I was cut in college, thirteen years later, also with little ability. Now, watching that crawling Cape Cod fog, I sat on a wooden dugout bench, splinters and all.

♦♦♦

Over the weekend of September 11, a three-day tournament, my father and a band of geriatrics donned navy-blue shirts with the name of their team sponsor, HarborOne, written in gold letters across the chest. Most wore shorts; others, baseball pants. On the second day, my dad had his shorts on backward. This was the day HarborOne went 0-2, losing its only two games of the entire Cape Cod Senior Classic Slow Pitch Softball Tournament.

During my own career, I had hardly felt nerves. But now, funny as it sounds, I was anxious—both for HarborOne and for Dad.

HarborOne needed to win three games on Championship Sunday. They were seeded sixth after pool play. Had they lost the first game, it would have been satisfactory by their standards (and mine) to go home to beer and the NFL.

But they won once. Then they won again. And after six games in three days, HarborOne limped into the championship game against the No. 1 Windham Elders.

My dad came up to the plate for his second appearance.

Elders, 2-1.

Bases juiced.

Two outs.

He worked the count full.

Nerves—all mine.

A strikeout would be humiliating for him—and, well, for me.

The pitch bell-curved to home plate. Dad smacked the ball down the left-field line. It was hooking foul, and if it landed too far left, it would go down as a foul out. This, too, would have been humiliating for him. (And, well, for me.)

The ball erupted a cloud of chalk, a mushroom cloud of calcium carbonate: it was inside the line, an RBI single. Dad strained for first base. And as he ran, an overthrow from the outfield sent another runner home.

HarborOne, 3-2.

Dad trotted to second. I stood with my arms splayed out in a V.

HarborOne went on to win 6-3 in extra innings. After that final out, Freddy, the southpaw pitcher, threw his glove into the air as high as the treetops. They all charged the mound.

And afterward, plaques in hand, the winners posed for a team picture. Should you strip away the beards, the wrinkles, the scars, the crow’s feet, and the gray, you would see a baker’s dozen of Little Leaguers, dirtied and tired, champions once more.

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About Brendan OMeara

Brendan O’Meara is a writer, reader, and beer brewer. In the summer
of 2011 SUNY Press will publish his work of narrative nonfiction “Six
Weeks in Saratoga: How a Three-Year-Old Filly Won the Woodward Stakes and Became Horse of the Year.” He lives in Saratoga Springs, New York with his wife and two dogs. Follow Brendan on Twitter or visit his web site.

Comments

  1. Elizabeth O'Meara says:

    This is a charming story!

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