If you are new to youth Little League® baseball, Tee Ball is typically the first stage of baseball development. Tee Ball introduces a young player to the bat, the round object with the red laces, the glove, the field, the bases, teammates, and being coached, maybe by Mom or Dad. It begins the process of learning how to throw, hit a round ball atop a rubber hose looking stand, put the bat down and run to a square about 30 feet or so away from you and so on. And it gives a youth baseball league a fresh set of players who could potentially blossom into 12U players competing to go to the Little League® World Series.
As players develop in Tee Ball, progress into a coach pitch type division, buzz starts to build around that word – potential. My grandfather always warned me about the word “potential” and how it can be used as a negative and positive statement about someone or something. At league games, tryouts, home run derby events, coaches start the wheels turning and the dialogue with other coaches about the “potential” 12U team that, “if this group stays together,” will seriously compete for a district title, a state title, maybe a regional title, and the ultimate goal – a trip to the Little League® World Series.
Once players reach the district all-star ages of 10U, the buzz really starts to get loud. For example, if a 10U team competes well on the District level, perhaps is crowned a champion, then the buzz for the 11U Districts a year from that point immediately become the talk of the town. “If everyone comes back and we add (insert name) and (insert name) to the mix, we are going to beat the heck out of (insert league). Coaches and parents communicate via text, on social media, at birthday parties. The summer and fall months, the summer baseball camps, the winter workouts – all have an underlying theme of “Wait until next year and the 11U Districts, Wow!!!”
Fast forward to the 11U District All-Stars and the buzz becomes deafening. If you have an 11U baseball team, filled with players from previous years, added (insert name) and (insert name) into the mix, dominate 11U Districts, win the State 11U title, compete successfully at the Regionals – wowza you are now UBER focused on your 12U District team about 9 months from taking the field. The chatter at school picks up, the texts pick up, extra hitting in the cage in the winter, early announcements from your league getting players and parents excited, sponsors are chomping at the bit to be on the jerseys, your league would play in the snow at this point! You have this amazing group of kids and will look to add a few in the spring. You have the coaches who have worked with this group for 2, 3, maybe 5 years now in Tee Ball, Coach Pitch, the Minors, and now the Majors Division. You have the team, you have the desire, you have the momentum.
And then the news comes out. “The 2020 Little League® World Series in Williamsport, PA will be cancelled due to health and safety concerns over Covid-19, aka The Coronavirus.” 5 years, 7 years, sometimes 8 years in the making – homegrown talent, a few players who moved into your league’s boundary, dedicated coaches with not only baseball knowledge but a familiarity with the kids, the whole community is behind you, the buzz is deafening over your potential to make it through your District, into the State Tournament, into the Regional Tournament, and to the ultimate destination. For the 12U player, your last shot at the ultimate prize will not happen. For the 12U parent, seeing your son/daughter’s dream be extinguished and the disappointment of all their hard work is devastating. For the league who had such high hopes, you will never get a chance to see how far this group of players could have gone. For the 12U players, leagues, parents, and baseball communities of 2020, I am truly sorry for this.
I received an emotional message from a RI baseball parent last night stating, “We lost our season. Really feel bad for all the kids especially the 12u kids that lost their last season. They were looking forward to this season, they worked hard all winter, and not be able to enjoy their last season with their friends, it hurts. My son plays AAU now but his last 12u year was everything. We wanted a shot at redemption this year. We had the addition to maybe get to Williamsport or at least win district. We had the talent, the hard work ethic, the coaching. Some been in the league for over 8 years and can’t enjoy it. I’m heart broken for all of us.”
To all the 12U players affected by this season of cancellations, I say this. 8 seasons of friendships, teammates, freezing cold Saturday morning games in April, doubleheaders in the heat of June, extra inning playoff games, walk off home runs, cookouts, awards ceremonies, home run derby competitions, striking out your best friend, friendly rivalries – are not lost. You collectively, the 12U player and parent, will have these cherished memories for years to come. When you go to a BBQ or a flag football game or hopefully back to your school this fall, you should chat it up about this 12U group. “We definitely could have beaten (insert league) this year at Districts,” “With (insert name) catching for us, we would have rolled through States.” And I say, Do it. Chat it up. Keep the buzz going. Keep the spirit of what could have been alive. Sure it is a massive disappointment. Yes, potentially, your league was the favorite to win your district, compete on the state level, maybe advance into the Regionals, and ultimately to Williamsport. Yes it is a bummer that you never had a chance to compete and show other leagues how good you have become. In some ways, this 12U group becomes even more special that others from years passed who had the potential to win big, but did not. This 12U group never suffered a loss in the postseason, never was no-hit in a playoff game, never lost on a controversial call from the umpires, never lost on a walk off home run.
This 12U group had the potential to go all the way to the Little League® World Series in Williamsport, PA. You had the players, you had the coaches, you had the talent, you worked hard, you were ready!!! Say it loud. Say it with pride. Say it to anyone who will hear your voice. And nobody can ever dispute that!