Thursday, May 26, 2016

Two Words: Mason and All-stars

You know what two words have never been in the same sentence together in all our years of playing ball?  Mason and All-stars.  Never.  Because let's face it.  Mason loves the game.  He loves being on the field.  He loves being on a team.  But he's never been the most athletic player out there.  For the first couple of years, he ducked every time the ball came near him.  He played in the outfield.   And that was okay because very few balls make it to the outfield in Little League.  And not even every inning was he out there.  Last year he had to rotate with some of the other boys so he really wasn't on the field a whole lot.  He batted at the bottom of the order.  And that was okay, too.  His bat rarely ever made contact with the ball anyway.  And, if it did, it didn't make it out of the infield.  But you know what?  Mason never knew the difference.  He was on a team.  And he was "playing ball."  And he was having fun.

I have to admit I wasn't excited when ball season began this year.  But he was.  During March and April, he practiced twice a week and had games every Tuesday.  Sometimes we had a double header, which meant we didn't get home until after 10:00 at night.  We've had a lot of rain this spring, but we missed only one game because of it and actually made it up two days later.  So I began to feel like we were in the baseball season that would never end.  The closing tournament was last weekend, and we thought that was going to be it.  But it wasn't.  We played this past Tuesday, and we have a double header next Tuesday.  And then we'll be done.  

This year his team was the Bandits.   

When Seth took Mason to his first practice back in March, he came home and told me that Mason was going to play first base.  My response?  Well, to play first base means you have to catch the ball.  A lot.  So I really don't see how that's going to be possible for someone whose strength isn't necessarily catching the ball.  After two weeks of practice, Seth reassured me that first base was Mason's position.  How he went from playing every other inning in the outfield to playing first base I'll never figure out.  But he did.  I just have to say . . . I was so impressed at his first game.  Not only was he playing first base, but he even LOOKED the part.  It was like I was watching a totally different kid from last year.

This dude is serious about first base.  He is constantly ready, always expecting the ball to come his way.  He's caught every single ball that was thrown his way this season (except, of course, the one that clocked him in the nose).  He's even fielded the ball and then got the runner out.  He's played first base the entire game every single game.

And batting this season?  Well, I didn't keep up with it, but I'm sure his on base percentage was pretty high.  That's because he walked the majority of his at bats.  He's one of the tallest boys in his age bracket this year, and most of the pitchers are shorter than he is.  So he hasn't had a lot of strikes thrown his way.  He prefers to walk anyway.  Or get hit by the ball.  Because that's a sure fire way to get to first base.  So I'm pretty sure that's been his at bat strategy.  He also got moved to second in the batting order this year.  Second.  I mean, how does that happen when you've always been last?  

He actually got hit in the helmet his very first game back after the nose incident.  I wasn't there because I was at dance recital rehearsal with the girls.  When my friend told me what happened (because her father-in-law had texted her), I didn't even believe her.  I thought she was just kidding with me because of the whole nose thing.  But she wasn't.  Once he got on base (again, he's either walking or getting hit), he loved to steal second and then make his way around to score.

But the more the season went on, the worse his at bats got.  He started striking out.  But he wasn't swinging.  He was looking and getting called strikes.  He'd even back out of the batter's box before the ball ever made it to the plate.  Seth wouldn't say much, but I kept telling him to stay in the box and swing the bat.  I didn't care if he struck out swinging.  At least he was swinging!  But I just hated seeing him strike out looking.

About a month ago, we took him to a private batting lesson with a former UNO college player.  He worked with Mason for an hour, and it was a very eye opening experience   He really nailed it and instructed Mason on how to correctly hold the bat, stand and swing the bat.  We wanted to take him to another lesson, but we haven't had time.  Last Friday I took him to the batting cage and met his coach there.  We'd never done that before.  I wasn't expecting it to go well at all.  I doubted he'd be able to hit the balls from the machine.  But I was wrong.  He batted three rounds and hit at least 75% (probably more) of the pitches.  And he had some good hits, too.  So I told him that he needed to do the same thing when he gets out on the field.  Granted, he doesn't always get great pitches (it's Little League!), but I told him he has to start swinging the bat.

This past weekend was the "closing" tournament.  He played two games on Saturday.  His team won both games.  So then they played again on Sunday afternoon.  It was a beautiful weekend for some baseball.  It was also hot.  I didn't get to see his second game on Saturday because I went to a graduation.  But I saw his first game.  He got really frustrated.  He struck out (looking, I might add!) during his first at bat.  He actually swung the bat and made contact during his second bat, but the ball didn't make it out of the infield.  He was called out at first base, but honestly it was a bad call.  Everyone knew it. But that's okay.  At least he swung the bat and made contact.  He was upset though.  But I just tried to encourage him with the fact that he swung and made contact.  Seth still didn't say anything.

These boys have been playing ball together for four years now.  Braden had always been in the outfield, too.  But not this year.  He's on the mound!  He's turning in to quite the pitcher and threw an awesome game on Saturday.  He did the same thing this past Tuesday.  It was fun to watch.

In our years of playing ball, we've never been on the winning team.  We've also never won a tournament.  That all changed this year.  After the boys won both of their games on Saturday, they turned around and won their Sunday game.  And you know what else happened at that game on Sunday?  Mason hit the ball.  And, I mean, he HIT the ball.  I couldn't help myself.  I jumped up and started cheering for him.  He had a really good hit.  Like one of the other moms said, "Now why did he wait until the end of the season to do that?!"

He was pretty excited.  He was even more excited when the first place trophy was presented to his team.  He loves trophies.  He doesn't have a whole lot of them.  But he loves them.  I think this one will probably mean the most though.

There are a couple of boys missing, but here is our team this year.  They won the opening tournament in March, they won the closing tournament last weekend and their record thus far is 10-2-1 with two games left.

Coach Barry is the most awesome coach we've ever had.  He's been at it for more than 20 years.  He absolutely LOVES the game, and he loves the kids.  He's the one who put Mason on first base.  He's believed in him the whole entire season.  Coach Barry always has an encouraging word for his players, and he makes sure they have fun.  This season has been the best we've ever had, and it's most because of Coach Barry.  

The boys get to choose their numbers at the beginning of the season.  Last year Mason chose number 1 (for obvious reasons).  But this year he chose number 23.  During the past couple of years he's gotten really good playing basketball in the driveway.  He really enjoys it.  He's also learned a lot about Michael Jordan.  And Michael's number?  23.

So I mentioned earlier that Seth hadn't had a whole lot to say about Mason's batting this year.  I also mentioned that Mason got a really good hit at his game on Sunday.  And guess what?  He went 2 for 2 at his game this past Tuesday, one of which was a fly ball to the outfield that wasn't caught.  Yes.  For the first time ever he hit the ball into the outfield during a game!  I mean, better late than never!  I kind of hate to see the season end now!  (Okay, not really.)  Anyway, I also found out that Seth finally had a few words for Mason at his second game on Saturday.  He didn't say a whole lot, but let's just say it worked.  And I'm over here like, "Well, why didn't you say that a long time ago?!"  

Seth was able to attend all of the practices this season and because quite involved with the team.  He only had to miss a few games.  I really don't know who has enjoyed it more.  Well, I'm pretty sure Mason has.

Oh.  And one more thing.  There's a first time for everything.  Mason and All-stars was used in the same sentence this season. Yep.  He was nominated for All-stars.  Did you hear what I just said?  MASON WAS NOMINATED FOR ALL-STARS!!!!  But.  When that's never happened before, and it's not even on your radar, and your Momma has already booked vacation and camp during the month of June when All-stars play, it doesn't quite work out.  But that's okay.  To even be considered, to even be nominated is such an honor for this kid!  He's come so far this year, and I just couldn't be prouder of him!  Now I might even look forward to ball season next year!  I might ought to leave our June calendar open.  Just in case.

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