When it is a perfect game

As a league president, I don’t need to go to a movie to see a Little League drama. Just this weekend, I had to deal with a coach being ejected from a game, a complaint about parents bringing their dogs on a school district field, an issue a manager had with parents, and parents who had an issue with a manager. The great thing about the movie The Perfect Game is that it reminded me of why all this work in Little League is worthwhile.

It was an enjoyable movie, but I was especially struck by a couple of important lessons, ones that can turn anyone into a champion.

The first is how we see ourselves. When the Monterrey team found themselves facing a stronger Texas team, Coach Cesar (played by Clifton Collins, Jr.) tells his boys, “You are Gil Hodges…You are Roy Campenella…” naming them after their favorite players from the then Brooklyn Dodgers. By getting the kids to see themselves as Major Leaguers, they began to play like them as well. Developing a positive self-image also helped them deal with the racism they faced as they played in 1950s America.

The second is having faith. The Monterrey players’ religious faith was so important to them that they refused to play without a blessing from a priest, even if it meant they had to forfeit. It was a faith that kept them strong through the challenges they faced on and off the field. I appreciated how the village priest (played by Cheech Marin) was shown as a positive and supportive leader for the boys and the community as a whole. It was a role that was shown without irony. Given the news out of the Vatican nowadays, it was refreshing and uplifting to see.

I also appreciated watching kids play baseball for the pure joy of it. They started out making their own equipment, whitling posts to make bats and binding thread and rags to make balls. When they found a real baseball, they treated it as a relic from God. They were kids who would walk (literally) ten miles just to play a game of baseball. They weren’t playing to get on a travel team so that they can get on a high school team so that they can get a college scholarship. They played because they love to play.

I can still see that on our ball fields today. I can see the joy in a child’s face when he makes a catch he didn’t think he could do, or when he drives in the winning run, or when he gets his first start as a pitcher.  The kids from the poor industrial town of Monterrey, Mexico in 1957 aren’t all that different from the kids of our suburban community 53 years later. They all want to feel that someone believes in them. They all want the chance to prove themselves, to show that they are more than what people think they are. And most importantly, they want to have fun. To me, that’s they joy of Little League and why it’s worth all the effort.