At its best, Little League Baseball is an opportunity not just to play a game, but to teach kids the value of being part of a team, of working hard toward goals and, thanks to baseball’s untimed nature, of learning you can’t give up on anything until it’s actually over.
Oh, yeah, and also to try and get a game finished before parents start nodding off and the field’s sprinklers come on.
The Little League District 4 Junior All-Star Tournament made a rare visit to Pahrump this year, but the home team did not enjoy any advantage from playing at Ian Deutch Memorial Park. Pahrump’s all-stars dropped a pair of marathon games, falling 16-15 to Cheyenne on Friday night and 15-14 to Summerlin South on Sunday night.
With the games involving kids of 13 and 14, there’s no need to get nasty. But the games were horrible. Painful, angst-ridden games that dragged on deep into the night, games of which any video should be burned.
Aesthetically, it was a nightmare. There was a steady stream of errors, walks, hit batters, wild pitches and passed balls. Pahrump pitchers hit eight batters — count ‘em, eight! — on Sunday. In fact, Summerlin South’s game-winning five-run rally in the bottom of the seventh featured hit batter, walk, hit batter, walk, hit batter, walk, walk, an out (!) and finally the game-ending single.
A game this messy means a scorecard this messy, and if my notepad was a Rorschach test, the logical response would be “nuclear holocaust.” Several species of insects have shorter life expectancies than the length of those two games.
What do you tell your team after two four-hour games of taking leads, blowing leads, taking leads, blowing leads and lots and lots of mistakes?
“I said that there’s no way we can give up 23 walks and hit-by-pitches in a single game,” Pahrump coach Drew Middleton said. “Combined in both of our all-star games we gave up 34 walks or hit-by-pitches, and we just can’t do that, especially at the high school level, especially with me being the pitching coach. I’m not going to let that fly.”
“It’s tough for those guys to take that because we basically handed them the game from the pitching side of it,” manager Tom Metscher said. “It’s not one person’s fault. It’s our staff. We preach pitching and defense, that’s what the high school coaches preach, and that’s what the team’s built around. It’s just frustrating when you continue the walks and they don’t earn it.”
Handling a pitching staff during a Little League tournament is a tricky proposition. The rules for resting pitchers under 14 are tight, and with two days of rest required after 50 pitches and three days after 65, coaches need to be careful. There is an argument for needing to win today for tomorrow to even exist, but you use up pitching at your peril.
“When you throw 185 pitches in a single game, that’s a killer,” Middleton said, referring to Pahrump’s Friday night total. “Our hands were tied. When you get in a Little League tournament like this, you can’t think of one game at a time. It’s like a huge chess game. If you come out and burn your pitching all at once, then you’re done.”
Of course, those rules affect everybody. Summerlin South’s Kurtis Wess had pitched two scoreless innings and had just struck out his fourth batter of 10 faced Sunday when the manager, Stephen Wess, checked the pitch count. It was 50. It was 10-8 South with one out in the seventh, but out came Kurtis. Six runs later, Pahrump took a four-run lead into the bottom of the seventh.
That Pahrump rallied surprised nobody. But in the same way, there wasn’t much doubt the 14-10 lead wasn’t safe, either. That kind of thing can be frustrating, but Tom Metscher had an interesting take on it.
“A lot of times these games affect the coaches more than the kids,” he said. “Drew and I talk about it all the time … if this, if that. The same thing happened to us last year. We made it to the state tournament up in Carson and had a 10-2 lead in the second game and had a chance to end that thing, and we imploded there, too. Bu these kids are going to be fine, and they’re going to be good players at the next level.”
The way it worked out, Pahrump was the visiting team in both games, and that might have been the difference. Give them a deficit to chip away at, and they were likely to erase it. Give them a lead to hold, and, well, you already know what comes next. Batting last could have made a difference considering the way these kids played.
Nevertheless, the ability to come back over and over and over was evidence of grit and determination, proof that these kids are not quitters who cave at the first sign of adversity, and their coaches were impressed even as they were frustrated.
“Five times between the two games we blew five-run or more leads, and every single time we found a way to battle back and get ahead,” Middleton said. “That’s really encouraging. If we can battle like that, that’s great. We had a freshman class this year that did that, so if these eighth-graders can show up and do that, and if we have all sophomores and freshmen that just battle and compete like that, that’s a great formula for us as a program.”
And while Pahrump also benefited from walks and fielding miscues, their players also hit.
Leo Finkler pounded the ball, consistently pulling the ball deep to left. Sometimes foul, to be sure, but also sometimes for doubles, three in the two games, resulting in 3 RBIs. Finkler also walked in 2 runs and scored 5 runs for the tournament.
James Metscher’s first three at-bats Friday night went double, single, double. He scored twice and drove in 2 runs. On Sunday, Sean Owens went 4-for-4 with a walk, scoring twice and driving in the last 2 runs for Pahrump. Dax Whittle connected for a 2-run single and walked in a run Sunday, while Fidel Betancourt joined Finkler and Owens in scoring three times.
“We hit the cover off the ball,” Tom Metscher said. “You score 29 runs in two games, you think you’re probably going to win by the 10-run rule or at least go 2-0, and we’re on the opposite end of that. It’s a tough pill to swallow, and everybody’s got ownership of it.
“They all battled to come back, took that lead late, and then it was almost like watching a car wreck before it happened.”
And Pahrump’s ever-supportive parents were there until the end.
“This town’s been phenomenal,” Metscher said. ”They love our all-stars, they love our players, and they’re behind them 100 percent.”
And they stayed behind them.
“It’s OK, you’re all right,” invariably would come after an error or a wild pitch. The kids know better. They know it’s not OK to hurl the ball into right field from the pitcher’s mound — and that happened a lot — but they also are resilient enough to shake it off and keep playing.
Middleton even found some positive things to say about the team in the field.
“Fidel played pretty good at short,” he said. “Austin (Sandoval) played a lot better behind the dish. In the first game he let a lot of stuff by him, but (Sunday) he stepped up and played well. James threw very well the first four innings.”
And both coaches know the players will put these two games behind them.
“The kids? They’re resilient,” Tom Metscher said. “They won’t falter. Ten of the 12 that are all-stars are Connie Mack kids, and we’re still in the middle of our season and in the playoff picture for that. We have a lot of baseball to play, so it’ll be fun. They’ll move on.”
Middleton agreed: “I told them in three weeks I want another playoff opportunity, and I think we can do it.”
So do they.
Contact Sports Editor Tom Rysinski at firstname.lastname@example.org On Twitter:@pvtimes