[August 8, 2019] Upon entering First Grade, my buddies and I became eligible to join the town’s only Little League Baseball Team. We loved the sport like true fans love any great baseball team. But it was our first game as new-fangled team players. Yet, we were taught several leader lessons that followed us the rest of the season and made us better kids.
If you were to look back in time to rural Northeast Louisiana, you would find that things are different when compared to today. Sixty years ago there was no air-conditioning, no video games or mobile phones, and nothing for a kid to do in school except be a good Little League baseball player. We were all friends in the First Grade, and the teacher expected nothing less. We always played by the rules.
If my memory is correct, there were seven boys and seven girls in my class. The school wasn’t important to any of us boys, and we went there because our mommas told us to. Baseball was the point of life, and we revealed in thinking about it. I distinctly remember the prior year in 1958 when the New York Yankees (my team since I was old enough to watch TV) won the World Series after coming from behind 1-3 games. Here are the lessons from my first game; a 1959 Little League Game:
- Our first lesson was that to win any game; it takes practice. And, practice takes a great coach who is willing to instill discipline and determination in the players. He has to know the right thing to do, clearly articulate his way of doing those things, and be strong mentally and physically. You had to show up for practice every time.
- Another lesson was good sportsmanship. As one of the players, if you cussed, called other team members names, or in any way misbehaved; you were off the team. For example, our coach expected us to shake the hands of every player on the opposing team both before and after the game; and wish them a good game.
- A baseball player had to show he contributed to the community. It wasn’t good enough just to be a churchgoer or demonstrate the Golden Rule; although these were important. Each team player had to show that he would help other folks in town. So we spent time cleaning up our school’s playground, picking up coke bottles (we got 2 cents each), and helping our teacher erase the blackboard at the end of the school day. In school, it was called “citizenship,” and our teachers took it seriously enough that we were graded daily.
- You had to have good grades in school. Yep, you might be the best player on the team, but grades were more important, and our coach made that clear. If you made a “C” grade in any subject, you were off the team. Since being a Little League baseball player was our most important objective in life, we studied to ensure our grades were acceptable. I remember more than once making a “C,” and it horrified me.
There are many lessons we all learned from childhood. Being part of a baseball team helped instill those lessons quicker than otherwise. Every boy in my class was on the team, and to be kicked off would be the ultimate disgrace. We prospered and occasionally won a regional championship. I still remember some of the games and I’m also still a New York Yankees’ fan, 60 years later.