Special commentary: Little League about more than just playing ball

Tyler Huynh (left) is encouraged by coach Jeff DeGrenier during an Oswego Little League game this season. With one out left in the bottom of the sixth inning, Huynh looked a little nervous and the support from his coach showed an invaluable lesson for Huynh and DeGrenier — and everyone else watching, writes Pall-Times sports editor Ben Grieco.

Oswego 10-and-under All-Stars manager Brian Chetney captured what Little League is all about. His team was down 16-8 heading into the final inning. He huddled his team together before their last at-bats and simply asked: “Are you having fun?”

Everyone responded with a resounding “yes,” and he said, “Good. That’s all that matters.”

The All-Stars lost 16-14 after scoring six runs, falling just short of an incredible comeback against Geddes.

It sounds cliché, making sure kids have fun, but at that moment, at 22 years old, Little League taught me something: it’s more than just an organization where kids can learn the fundamentals and play baseball.

No, I wasn’t playing, nor was I coaching. I just stood there to take pictures and keep my own scorebook.

I witnessed these kids play a sport they love. I saw coaches encourage their players, no matter the situation. I observed families and friends support everyone on both teams in a game. Players laughed, smiled and cheered. At times there was also disappointment and sometimes tears.

But that’s baseball, right?

With the Oswego Little League, more importantly, a community came together to embrace these kids both on and off the field — it didn’t matter what jersey they had on. At that point, they were Oswego’s kids.

During the Oswego Little League Majors Division championship series, which featured teams sponsored by the Oswego Police Department and city of Oswego Fire Department, both departments had representatives show up in uniform and they brought along patrol cars and fire engines. Where else does that happen?

In the District 8 tournament, there were fans at both the 10U and 12U games that didn’t even have kids on the team. Because, again, they were Oswego’s kids.

An Oswego parent described Little League, and youth sports in general, as “a safe space for children to take risks, and give their all, and stumble and fall down, and learn life’s hard lessons that is supportive but also demands accountability.”

These kids are anywhere from eight to 12 years old. This isn’t the MLB World Series. Little Leaguers can make mistakes. Sure, it may cost them a game or two, but are they really going to remember the final result of a single game in 20 years when they might have kids of their own in Little League? Absolutely not. They’re going to remember the fun times they had with friends and the impression that these coaches — those who volunteer their time to inspire these kids — had on them. They’re going to remember the highs, such as winning the championship or hitting their first home run.

It doesn’t matter if a kid has mastered a change up pitch, or can launch a ball 100 feet over the fence. As the featured photo shows, Little League is about encouraging, inspiring and simply letting “kids be kids.”

And perhaps that’s the most important part of all: having fun.

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