As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, many of the usual events of spring and summer have been canceled in the last two months. School, and all of the annual springtime events that come with it, from performance recitals to graduation. Weddings, bar mitzvahs, and religious services. All professional concerts, theatrical events, and an entire season’s worth of movies, all of which I make a living covering as an arts and entertainment journalist.
But of all the usual events that we’re missing out on this spring, there’s one ritual that my family and I have missed most of all: Little League. In my town, as in so many others, the local Little League programs represent more than just a game. They function as everything from a source of area pride to a multigenerational community gathering place.
Back in mid-February, I attended a coaches’ meeting, to go over rules for the coming season. That was followed by the usual preseason rituals — tryouts, drafts, assignment of teams — going on as scheduled.
But as the coronavirus began to cancel events in mid-March, the season’s opening day was postponed. Since then, the league has been suspended more than once, and last week, we got the official word that the season had been canceled.
This time of year, between games and practices, I'm normally at the Little League complex nearly every day. But this year, I haven't been back to the fields since that coaches' meeting three months ago.
My two sons are 8 and 10 years old. They've both been playing at South Marple Little League in Delaware County since they started tee ball at the age of 4, and have since gradually moved up through the age levels; this year they were supposed to play in the Senior Farm and Minors divisions, respectively.
I've been coaching for all this time, and I've seen my sons grow up with the same kids over the years, sometimes on the same teams, and forming close friendships that have endured. Some kids who were nervous and unsure of themselves when they first played tee ball have grown into superlative batters and pitchers just a couple of years later.
But it’s more than the friendships. The teamwork and camaraderie that come with being part of a Little League squad are valuable life skills for kids to learn. And beyond that, everything I’ve seen throughout my experience as a Little League coach and parent has disproved the widespread notion that kids today are lazy, entitled snowflakes looking for a safe space and a participation trophy. Or, for that matter, that they have no interest in the game of baseball.
These kids care about the games, a lot. They dedicate themselves enough to attend twice-weekly practices, games once or twice a week, and also hit the field on other nights of the week to watch their friends’ games. It’s not just boys, either. In most area Little Leagues, the tee ball levels are coed, and while girls for the most part play softball, they can cross over to baseball too, as anyone who remembers the Little League World Series run of Mo’ne Davis’ Taney Dragons team in 2014 surely knows.
Sure, the players have been known to do things such as not listen to their coaches or cry after striking out. But they are, after all, kids.
As for the participation trophy thing, it’s a silly culture-war canard. No kids even think about their participation trophies except for on the day they get them, at which point the trophies go up on a shelf with all the others. The kids might care a great deal about non-baseball things -- what they’re eating postgame at the snack bar, for example -- but none of them are in it for the trophies.
As the Taney Dragons have shown, a Little League squad can emerge as a powerful rallying point for an entire city.
But even if the town you’re from doesn’t yield a team that advances in international competitions, the Little League field often emerges as a ritual gathering place for adults, too, which is another thing that forms lasting friendships and a sense of community. As someone who grew up far away from where I live, being involved with Little League has made me feel a part of the community in a way I never quite did before.
I'm not arguing for Little League organizations to buck local governments and reopen illegally. The people in charge of my local Little League have handled a difficult and unhappy situation very well, and not playing this spring has been the right decision. And it should go without saying that the lack of a Little League season is far from the greatest hardship to come out of the last three months.
But that said, my family is left with sadness, about missing one of our favorite things.
Stephen Silver is a journalist and film critic who lives in Delaware County.