It’s raining. There’s steam on the windows of Pepperoni Express, steam on the mirror that lines the back wall. And the room is filled with talk of baseball.
Not the Red Sox. The rain stopped Opening Day. Some of the boys are in Sox gear, some are wearing worn shirts from last year with “Grafton” across the front and a fading number on the back. They’re wearing baseball caps and big smiles.
They’re a team.
They’ve made the major leagues — or at least the majors for Little League. And tonight, they’re meeting with their coach for the first time.
The coach isn’t new to several of them, my son among them. The kid practically did backflips when we received the email with his coach’s name. He thrived under this coach last year and surprised the heck out of the man, something the coach relates to the team when he talks about working as a team.
He had an excellent player on the team last year, he says. The boy could hit anything. His pitching was stellar. In fact, he was so good that midway through the season, he was called up to the majors, leaving the team without a defined star. That’s when the coach admits he was forced to look around at the rest of the team.
On a whim one night, he put the kid in as pitcher and was surprised to discover he had an arm. He shouldn’t have been surprised, he said. He should have been watching the kid closer. He’d noticed that whenever he’d asked him to do something, he’d respond with a smile and a “yes, coach!” He didn’t realize that under the excellent attitude was, yes, an excellent arm.
He discovered things about the other boys on the team, too, he said. A team that lost its star midway through the season ended up going all the way to the finals, where they lost in an incredibly close game. But looking around at his team that night, he said, he saw a bunch of stars. He saw a star team.
The kids munch pizza and the coach walks around and talks to parents. We know our orders. We’re supposed to behave on the sidelines. We’re supposed to get the kids to games and practices on time. We’re responsible for our child’s behavior.
He drops by our table and says he’s happy to have the kid on the team again. The Little Miss ducks her head as he grins at her. It took her an entire season last year to warm up to him. Hopefully it won’t take that long this year.
Opening Day for the Red Sox was washed out. Opening Day for Little League is in 20 days.
But inside the restaurant, safe from the rain? There’s a team again.