Trick plays in baseball are a fun and entertaining strategy at any level. The hidden ball trick is a popular one. A fielder pretends to throw the ball back to another fielder or the pitcher, and but actually keeps the ball in his/her glove. A baserunner, maybe not paying attention, wanders off the bag and the hidden ball trick is completed when the fielder then tags him/her out. Another popular trick over the years at Fenway Park, Boston has been the left fielder watching the ball about to hit the left field’s “Green Monster Wall” without moving. The baserunner goes into cruise mode around first, thinking he has an easy double or possibly a home run. Having taken hundreds of balls off the “Wall”, the left fielder knows precisely how to play a carom, grabs the baseball, and fires a strike to second base to “putout” a non-hustling baserunner. Trick plays are great when they work, but for the most part, they are rare to complete – at any level.
A few years back, when North Kingstown Wickford Little League was just Wickford Little League, I was coaching a minors level team. We had a great bunch of kids, most of whom have continued to play at higher levels of Little League baseball. In this minors level division, players were introduced to the concept of “kid pitch” where the kids pitched against each other. Pitchers had their first opportunity to step onto the mound and throw against their peers, having graduated from Tee Ball and Coach Pitch divisions. This is such an exciting division, mainly for the pitching and hitting aspect. And it makes this division so exciting for the families and fans of this age group to watch these players and dream about what they could become as they progress to the higher levels of baseball.
In our Wickford Little League Minors format, pitchers were allowed to throw a certain number of pitches to each batter. If they did not record a strike or an out, the batter’s coach (like myself) would step in from the dugout to complete the hitter’s at bat. Coaches would essentially “groove it” so their hitter could hit and run and be cheered by their teammates and families. In that season, I remember having to come to the mound to pitch to our team. I did my very best to throw the ball exactly where I thought they could hit it fair and run to at least first base. Some of my hitters even hit home runs off of me. I was happy to provide such easy pitches for them to hit and enjoy the feeling of being cheered. It was truly a very special year for me and my team.
One such player however stands out amongst all others on that team. My son, his good friends from Elementary School, and some other players I had coached previously were on that team. I remember those players well and still coach some of them to this day in tournaments and higher divisions. But it was another player, one whom I will always remember from that year, that was part of the greatest trick play I have ever successfully completed that will remain one of my favorites. Her name was Bella.
Bella was a great athlete. She hustled after the ball. She had a great arm, in fact better than a lot of kids on my team that year. She played great defensively each game. And ran into the dugout, hustled in practice, high fived her teammates, was enthusiastic to the Nth degree. A coach’s dream to work with – someone who wanted to be there and wanted to get better. As the season went on, Bella walked a few times and was able to run the bases. But, the one thing that was missing was a base hit. I tried the entire season to “groove” a pitch exactly where I thought her bat would hit the ball. I tried and tried and unfortunately, it never happened. Going into our last game, I emailed the other assistant coaches and said “We have got to get Bella a hit.” And then it HIT me.
Bella’s parents as well as the other player’s parents from that season were incredible. Fiery, enthusiastic, and energetic like I have never ever witnessed. They cheered for walks, for hits, for strikeouts, for the sunshine, for raindrops, pretty much anything that was going on in the games, they were cheering loudly. They were like “groupies” and their energy was amazing. Bella’s parents cheered the loudest every game. They were awesome. I had an idea and approached Bella’s mother. “Maybe its the pitching” I said to her, “Would you be interested in pitching to your daughter? I could point to you when she comes up to bat. Call in a relief pitcher like in the big leagues.” Bella’s mom was in. She high-fived me so hard my glove fell off. The trick play was set.
I mentioned the trick play to my coaches and the opposing coach, a great baseball friend of mine, Gary Lamond. He was all for it. In the 2nd inning, after the opposing pitcher was unable to get Bella out, I walked to the mound and grabbed the baseball from the pitcher. As I stood on the mound, Bella took a few practice swings just outside the batter’s box. I then called time-out and pointed to Bella’s mother who was in the stands over by our third base dugout. Bella’s mom casually made her way out to the mound without Bella noticing. Bella stepped back in the batter’s box, without looking out to the mound, ready to hit. I placed the ball in Bella’s mother’s hand and tapped her on the shoulder, just like in the big leagues and walked off the mound to enjoy the moment. Bella then took a glance out to see her mom on the mound and grinned from ear to ear. And then it happened.
The very first pitch, after seeing about 100 pitches in the minors division from various players and her own coach, was connected by Bella for a wonderful base hit. Bella ran to first and I thought the noise coming from that baseball field at Wilson Park would cause an earthquake. The coaches and I screamed, Bella’s mom screamed, Bella just sprinted to first base, and the crowd was insane with joy. Bella’s mom walked off the field, heckling me time after time about how I couldn’t pitch, and was greeted by her fellow parents and friends in the stands. I had the ultimate satisfaction pulling off the greatest trick play in my baseball lifetime. It was one of the best days of my baseball lifetime. One I will never forget.