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Aarhus: Little League lasts a lifetime

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columns Dickinson, 58602

Dickinson North Dakota 1815 1st Street West 58602

It's the middle of June, so that means little league baseball should be in full swing around the state.

Those early mornings of trying to find your baseball cleats and getting all the way to the diamond before remembering that you forgot your baseball cap -- only to shrug your shoulders and say, "Eh, I don't need it."

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It's a fun time for most kids, and the memories can last a lifetime.

Here are a few of mine:

-- The first summer I started playing, my very first hit was an instant little league classic.

The pitcher -- also the umpire -- lobbed the ball across home plate and I swing over top of it, hitting the ball into the dirt 3 feet in front of me. Fair ball!

I scurried down the first-base line with one group of people yelling, "Run, run!" I heard another group yelling, "Take your mask off. Take your mask off!" It was clear the catcher couldn't find the ball. When he did find it, he threw a floater over the first baseman's head. My first base coach, hunched down to my height, pointed to second with his other arm waving in circles.

So I kept running. We'll call it a single with an error (I had the throw beat. Please don't take that away from me).

But the catcher's errant throw apparently hit the fence and bounced farther, allowing me to round second with the third-base coach waving me in. Born with slug-like reflexes and speed, I was pushing pretty hard only to see the ball get to third before I did.

But the ball didn't stop.

The throw was too hard for the third baseman to handle, and my coach waved me around. I crossed home plate way ahead of the throw to give my team a 1-0 lead. It was a home run. I had an inside-the-park home run -- from a ball hit 3-feet in front of me.

The baseball nerd in me knows it was a single (I won't let it go) with two errors. We won the game, and for as good a team as we had that year, we might have won 10-0. I don't remember anything past my full-swing bunt.

We won our league that year, which culminated in a run-scoring single to right field by one of my teammates that won the championship game. I can still remember that teammate reaching first base, then running back to us while jumping up and down like Jim Valvano.

-- A year later, I had switched schools because I was finally able to get into the elementary school closest to me (it was only a block from where I lived). Previously, the class was too full, and I had to be transported across town by bus to a different school.

I finally got to play with all of the friends I played with at the park every day after school. However, I quickly found out that we weren't quite as good at baseball as I'd thought we were. We didn't do very well, even against my old teammates (summer teams were decided by what elementary school you went to).

We were playing a really good team and I was up to bat. But apparently the catcher for the other team had never played there before and stationed himself too close to the plate.

I swung at the first pitch, only to meet a resistance. I hit the catcher in the back. He rolled over on the ground in pain, as my eyes got huge. What just happened?

I was later told it was not my fault, but I still felt bad. The game went on, though, and he was able to continue.

-- That incident embedded a childhood fear in me that I'm not sure I ever overcame -- playing catcher.

I played catcher for the first time later that season, and it was a disaster. I stood about five feet behind the plate, so I wouldn't get hit by the bat. I finished the game at the position, but I hated it and vowed to never play it again. I also couldn't get used to following the ball. Every time the batter swung at a pitch and missed, I'd lose sight of the ball. The experience helped me develop a tremendous respect for catchers, even if I refused to put on the mask.

A few other memories:

-- My very first day of little league, I was given a shirt about three sizes too big. I used it all season.

-- One morning, I was put in the outfield and the mosquitos were so bad, I was constantly moving. My coach thought I was eagerly awaiting some action in left field.

-- I took the mound to pitch at the start of a game after urging my coach to let me throw sidearm. He refused, of course, because that's not how you're supposed to pitch. I labored through six innings and had a 4-3 lead with two runners on and no outs in the bottom of the seventh. Throwing caution to the wind, I broke out the sidearm and struck out the next three batters to end the game. My coach didn't say anything about it. I think we both understood each other.

Aarhus is a sports reporter for The Jamestown Sun, which is owned by Forum Communications. Reach him at caarhus@jamestownsun.com.

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