We marched from Elmwood to Winton to the Twelve Corners Middle School for the first time under the Brighton Fire Department’s new flag.
It was the same route we had joyously taken when Brighton volleyball brought home the state title.
Yesterday under a spring sky anointed by the baseball gods, Moms, Dads, kids and dogs carried forward the unbroken tradition of that American icon, Little League.
It felt like last of Fourth of July when we celebrated Brighton’s diversity at Meridian Centre Park. And last May when we had cheered as former Baron Ernie Clement’s University of Virginia Cavaliers won the College World Series.
Generations of elected pols and judges have found the Parade irresistible. State Senator Joe Robach had his picture taken with every paperazzi in town (as in one). For all takers, Councilman Jim Vogel handed out parade gifts that looked like plastic dog biscuits. With a natural eye for the photo-op, Judge Karen Morris readily joined five girl Barons and a flag next to the town cannon. Judge Morris herself did not play Little League, but I bet she’d make a fine umpire.
And the most natural politician of them all, the Red Wings’ mascot/icon Spikes was working the crowd. Doling out autographs to the young and a little older, riding in the parade car and schmoozing with The Crazy Pitches at the pep rally in the Middle School. Watch out assembly people, if Spikes runs for office, he’ll win a landslide.
Everyone has a Little League recollection etched in memory. For Joe Robach, it was 1970 when he played for Abbot’s Custard in the Charlotte Little League. Because Joe was tall, he was positioned at first base. But he really dreamed of playing shortstop, back in the day when Luis Aparichio and Ernie Banks — who always wanted to play two — were his heroes. Before Cal Ripken, tall kids didn’t play shortstop.
But Joe’s coaches had instilled upon him that baseball is a team game so he kept his wish to himself. Then late in the season, nervous and hesitant, Joe asked his coach if he could play shortstop.
And he did, for a couple of innings. Not a ball was hit Joe’s way, but you can look it up: Joe Robach, ss, Abbott’s Custard v. Charlotte Appliance, Rochester, NY, 1970. In Little League, Joe learned that life is a team game, but if you ask diplomatically you can get to play shortstop for a couple of innings.
No doubt he played first base, Brighton Town Supervisor Bill Moehle’s memory is philosophically tinged. The fields in the Plymouth, Michigan Little League were located next to a cemetery. Before the season started, the boys were told that about 5 or 6 times a season a funeral procession would pass by when games were played. The games were to be stopped as the crowd and players paid their respects. At that age, many of the boys had not been deeply touched by death. But they sensed the contrast between the life-affirming game they were playing and the mournful procession. For Bill, this was one of his earliest lessons on mortality. So as we march forward, relish every game and every inning.
For Jim Vogel, it was 1984 when he coached Town & Country Dry Cleaners. On his team was Jimmy Williams who was playing baseball for the first time. His mom, who was raising Jimmy by herself, had encouraged him. They were in the process of moving and this would be Jimmy’s last chance to play in the Brighton Little League.
Shy and quiet, Jimmy was nervous about joining Town & Country. Patiently, the coaches and players brought Jimmy into their baseball family. They worked on Jimmy’s batting every time he wanted help.
In the final game, T & C was trailing by a run with two outs and two men on in the last inning. It was Jimmy’s turn at bat. While Jimmy had improved, he had still been a weak hitter throughout the season. Inwardly, Jim worried as Jimmy came to the plate.
But in that moment the hand-eye coordination Jimmy practiced — but eluded him — was in synch. He smashed a long drive over the left fielder’s head. As he slid into third with a triple, Jimmy had won the game. Outright elation was what Jim remembers 32 years later.
The team hung out for a bit after that last game. Soon after, Jimmy and his mom moved from Brighton. Jim never heard from or saw Jimmy again. Jim hopes — and thinks — Jimmy learned something from his experience. If only to believe in yourself. And to believe others believe in you too. Jim also hopes Jimmy knows had he struck out it wouldn’t have mattered.
As for my own, it was 1976, my first season. Then, the rules were that in your first season, you could play in the slightly younger bracket, which I did for V.P. Supply.
Everyone has that one championship season. In my first swing in practice on the football field, I hit one almost to the goal post. It was like I was the Natural. All season, pitching and at shortstop, I played naturally and unselfconsciously. A little like my hero George Brett: good instincts and line drive hitter with some home run power.
In the All Star game, I was the only one chosen to play the whole game, pitching and at shortstop. And batting cleanup. My sister filmed part of the game and caught my easy pitching motion that later in life became stilted as I thought too much. My fast ball was a little wild, but because I had all star fielders, I took a little off the pitches and got outs. At shortstop, I caught a throw nailing a stealing base runner. I remember that all star catcher’s bullet popping right into my glove.
But at the plate, I froze. I came up four times, but did not swing once. I could not will the bat off my shoulder. Luckily, the other team walked me the first three times, twice with the bases loaded. My teammates shouted, they’re afraid of him. People thought I had a good eye, but no one knew what was going on inside my head.
But many of the pitches were hittable. But from unselfconscious I went to paralyzed. Frozen. In the last at bat, I took a called third strike.
But it didn’t effect the outcome. We won the game handily. I had pitched decently, fielded my position, and scored a couple of runs with two rbi. That would also be my last moment in the sun. The next year, when I moved up in the age bracket, I was thoroughly mediocre.
I don’t know if I ever told that story, my secret. What’s to tell? No drama; no one knew; we won the game handily. Sometimes, however, I wondered if my paralysis was a metaphor for a failed life.
While I have not walked across the grandest stages, my life has not been a failure. So there goes that metaphor. Really, it’s just a secret story I keep with my twelve year old self. When I think of him then and me now, it still feels like we are the same person. I accept him and he accepts me — even if we froze in the 1976 Brighton Little League All Star game and many times since.
As for the flag, Chief Stephen MacAdam filled me in on the details. Incidentally, Stephen played his ball in Nova Scotia in what he says is the longest standing Little League in North American. Having found his passion early in life, Stephen tried to join the team whose players got to ride in a fire truck in Nova Scotia’s own opening day baseball parade.
Stephen explained the Department had raised funds to purchase black mourning bunting to honor fallen firefighters. With leftover funds, the Department purchased the 12×20 American flag that flies at the East Avenue Station, now used for special occasions. I also learned that only the President can order flags lowered to half mast — actually the Brighton Department has a “Half Mast” alert app — and the last time was for one week to honor Justice Scalia.
OF HISTORICAL NOTE. For a short period in the mid 7os, the rival International Wiffleball League vied with Brighton Little League for the affection of the town’s teenage ball players. Alas, like the baseball Federal League (1913 – 15) and the World Football League (1973 and 74) and the United States Football League (1983 – 85), we succumbed to the larger leviathan. And with it, Talker‘s precursor, The Weekly Wiffle News.
As reported in the Brighton-Pittsford Post, 2004: