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Monday, March 19 Sports

Reid All About It / Little League lessons

Town baseball fans can again take pride in their Little League all-star teams this summer. In the 11-12-year-old division that can lead to worldwide television coverage in Williamsport, Pa., next month, Fairfield again has fielded two splendid teams. One is still around, hunting for the District 2 title, while the other was eliminated on Tuesday after going 4-0 in pool play in the prior two weeks, leading to a berth in the four-team, double-elimination competition.

Credit foremost goes to the players who earned their way on to the Fairfield American and Fairfield National select teams by having developed their skills to the point where they have been adjudged to be among the best players in town. But praise must also be heaped on the managers -- Michael Steed, of the Americans, and Dr. Brad Weinstein, of the Nationals -- and their coaches.

The adults are taking the right approach, stressing proper execution of the fundamentals and team play through selflessness, along with focusing on the immediate goals only -- winning one game at a time by the players being at their best for each pitch and at bat. Each manager has talked about their discussions with the team about taking it one game at a time.

The goal of these volunteer fathers is not to guide their soon-to-be young-men players into adulthood. That's the responsibility of each player's parents, teachers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, older siblings and clergy. But it is the role of the managers and coaches to help their players along the way.

This has been happening, as they have navigated the players through adversity. It's the messages from Steed and Weinstein, and their assistants, when times are tough on the diamond that will leave a lasting impression.

The best case in point has been Weinstein's stewardship through Monday's difficult loss to Monroe and leading up to and including their ousting by Westport on Tuesday. Fairfield led by 3-2 in the top of the fifth inning with two outs before Monroe's pitcher slapped a single. Then while Monroe's most dangerous hitter was at bat, the Nationals failed to catch a foul pop-up. In the big leagues, it would have been ruled an error; it's a play that major leaguers fail to make a couple of times a year.

Monroe's slugger then blasted a home run, sending Fairfield into a 4-3 deficit. The Nationals' leadoff batter in the bottom of the frame cracked an opposite-field home run. But he did not touch home plate, Monroe noticed, made the appeal and the home-plate umpire agreed. The batter was out; the run did not count. Fairfield wound up losing 4-3.

The next night, some bad luck greeted the Nationals in a 7-4 loss to Westport. Weinstein was able to get the players refocused. They didn't play perfectly -- not many teams of 12 year olds do -- but they played the type of ball that carried them through pool play unblemished. The players showed their resiliency. All involved with the team showed their character.

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Weinstein consoled the players who were punched by Lady Luck on Monday immediately after the game. But he wasn't addressing the three players only involved in the pivotal plays. The team lost. The previous wins were team triumphs, with contributions by many.

Weinstein was consistent with his lessons to the team. He pointed out that baseball is a humbling game. He spoke about how a player can be the inspiration for victory with standout play in one game but make an error in the field or on the base paths or mound in the following game. He talked about how character is revealed when the game gets sticky and the players respond with confidence, faith and renewed effort.

There's a strong possibility the Fairfield National players will recall what they learned from their Little League days and in the District 2 tournament in particular.

They still will remember the stinging loss, but they will realize they grew as young men from their games -- and their aftermath -- on the early evenings of July 7 and July 8 in Trumbull.

On Wednesday night, before the Fairfield American team's game with Monroe was postponed until Thursday, several of the Fairfield National players were on hand to watch. If asked about the previous two night's games, it's highly likely they would have exhibited a measure of grief. They might have been queried about it as they waited for the game to start.

But it was clear to see that on this night they behaved like 11- and 12-year-old boys should: just trying to have fun during their summertime break from school.

That's how it ought to be.

Reid L. Walmark is the sports editor of the Fairfield Citizen