Quote of the Day “You can’t live a perfect day without doing something for someone who can never repay you.” –John Wooden
Running through my usual websites today, I read with great interest on the Mississippi Press Register’s website that the 12 year old Dixie Youth Baseball O Zone World Series was underway in Pascagoula. I was pleased to see Pascagoula buried Tennessee 17-8 in the opening round. My mind travelled back to Pascagoula National’s bitter 4-3 defeat at the hands of Tennessee in the 1983 Dixie Youth World Series in Bessemer, Alabama. The details have grown fuzzier with each passing year, but I recall for certain that we had the tying and winning runs on 2d and 3rd base when the game ended and that all of Tennessee’s (12 year old) players were 6’5, had beards, and were ambidextrous.
It was a great summer. My friends and I won three tournaments in route to that World Series. In the State Tournament, we faced Laurel needing to beat them twice in order to advance. Unbeknownst to me at the time, we were major underdogs as Laurel was considered one of the greatest hitting teams ever seen in our state. The public address announcer even thanked us for our participation and wished Laurel well at the World Series in the 5th inning of our first game with them when we were behind two runs. We won that game, won the next night, and the achievement means almost as much to me today as it did twenty-six years ago.
Our manager was Sixto Aleman–Coach Six. He passed away several years back and I miss him. Six taught me a lot that summer. The season of 1982, I played well enough to make the All-Star team comfortably. However, I didn’t and the main reason why was Six standing up during the vote and telling all the other coaches I didn’t deserve it because I had a “bad attitude.” Six didn’t know me at the time and misinterpreted my visible reactions to the little setbacks that happen during the course of games as being directed at teammates rather than at myself. I knew he blackballed me and I was pretty unhappy that he would be my coach in 1983.
The first thing Six did was “make” me play shortstop–I thought I should be in centerfield. The summer was off to a bad start. Then we played our local nemesis, Moss Point, in the finals of our first tournament. I was pitching and got off to a miserable start. Down 5-0 in the second inning, Six came to the mound and sent everyone else away. He wasn’t angry or frustrated, just matter of fact. “Hey chief, you think I should take you out.” I angrily replied “I guess.” He calmly responded, “You’re our best chance to win this game. Forget about everything before now and pitch the way you know how. And have fun. We’re going to win.” And we did, 6-5. It wasn’t long thereafter that Six came to me and told me how proud he was of me. He also said he knew I didn’t like him because of what happened the year before, and he didn’t blame me, and he was wrong, and he was sorry. That was the first time an adult had ever confessed his fallability to me. And I loved him for it. Pragmatism, loyalty, determination, trust, honesty, and forgiveness–my understanding of all of these qualities was dramatically and permanantly enhanced over those weeks in ways that have stayed with me to this day. Plus, I ended up loving shortstop and playing it pretty dang well.
I can’t remember all I learned from Six sitting in his house, or in a dugout, or out at the ballfields over the course of the 1980’s, though one other moment stands out. It was a couple of years later and a coach was trying to call my pitches from the dugout. I had never relied on anyone else to call my pitches and didn’t like it a bit. I complained to Six and he said “You think you know better than him? Then go out there, listen to him, say “yes sir”, then do what you think is right. If it works, he won’t say anything. If it doesn’t, you better be prepared for the consequences.” It’s the best advice I ever got and I still use it all the time.
I don’t know if Heaven’s gone wireless and online yet, Six, but if someone forwards this to you, thanks for that summer.