Sports

For the love of the game

by Lori Tippets
The Jacksonville News

  I looked back to see the face of Casper Royall, my 5-year-old grandson, as we were headed off to T-ball practice. The blustery day with light rain falling, wind blowing and temperatures in the 40s couldn’t dampen his spirits. His eyes twinkled with excitement because we were on our way to T-ball.


Casper bounded out of the car when we reached the field, but once he got to the fence he looked down at the ground and walked slowly in. You could tell he was still just as excited but he had suddenly become timid and shy to be around the other players.


Casper was born with only a partial right arm. His first day of practice I wasn’t there and his other grandmother told me that the other children told him he couldn’t play because he didn’t have an arm. “Just throw him the ball and you will see if he can play,” she explained.

 

At first they tried just rolling the ball to Casper. “No, throw it like you would to anyone,” said the other grandmother. With a proper throw, Casper caught the ball in his glove, then quickly transferred the glove under his other arm and let the ball drop into his hand. With perfect accuracy Casper threw the ball, hard and straight, back to the coach.

 

At the plate, Casper showed that he could hit the ball just as hard, or harder, than anyone else. It is actually harder for Casper to hit off the tee than hitting a pitch that is thrown to him. He has been practicing with his dad and grandfather at home and is getting quite good for a 5-year-old, let alone one with a disability.

 

Casper will have to struggle at times, but the look on his face and the twinkle in his eye that he can play just like the other kids is something that will never be forgotten. He plays because he loves the game.

Bigger boys take the field

While visiting with Casper, I also had a chance to go to a high school baseball game where Casper’s other grandfather coaches and his uncle, a senior, plays.

 

All I can say is you really have to love baseball to play in Sequim, Washington. It was freezing cold! In Washington, the teams can’t start playing until March and are limited to just 20 games before the playoffs. You wouldn’t want to start before March!

 

While visiting, one of their games was played while it was hailing outside! On the day that I went to watch, a steady rain had come down all day. By the second inning the boys were soaked to the skin. Pitchers were having trouble gripping the ball.

 

They told me that the week before I arrived they played in snow, until the flakes got so big that the outfielders had trouble picking out the ball from the flakes.

 

Yet, surprisingly, this team, the Sequim Wolves, showed me something I haven’t seen in a long time at this level. Despite the elements, these players were just happy to be playing and were having fun!

 

The game that I watched the Wolves were down 7-1 to neighboring Port Angeles. They came back to win, 12-10, and go into a tie for first-place in the area.

 

I saw boys play with smiles on their faces. I saw a coach put his arm around a player at first base for getting a single. I saw coaches laugh with boys when mistakes were made and tell them, “Don’t worry, you’ll do better next time.”

 

This team was a well-oiled machine. On every play everyone was moving. The coach called out the number of a play before a pitch and everyone knew what they were going to do.

 

They spend two hours twice a week just working on every possible situation that might arise during a game They all played with a great deal of confidence because the coaches were constantly building up their self-esteem.

 

I came back from Washington with a deeper appreciation for those who never take the smile off of the face of excited 5-year-olds like Casper; and for those who keep the smile on faces of the older players, and help them to keep playing just for the love of the game.

 

Lori Tippets is a writer for The Jacksonville News in Alabama. See www.jaxnews.com.

 

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