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MY TURN AT BAT

The New Kids Move In
By Ken LaZebnik

The Levine twins (not their real name) moved into the neighborhood this spring, sending shock waves through our Little League park. They're big, they're twelve, they both pitch, and they had to be on the same team. They clearly looked like weapons of mass destruction and the night of the baseball draft things got ugly: heated voices, screaming arguments, cries of pain, all of which I heard as the agony of defeat foretold.

The gut level back door thrill of winning is a powerful drug. We Americans are addicted to it and, like all addictions, the thrill it gives ultimately renders us powerless. My son's baseball season has been playing out against the backdrop of winning the war in Iraq, a campaign that glues America to the tube because we've drafted a winning team. We've got superior pitching, we've got big hitters, and we've got guys in the field who can make every play. We're going to clean up this year and we're not going to stop until we come home with the tournament trophy.

We learn to love winning early on in our country. Even in T-ball, it ground my gears to play against Gordon Ho's team—impeccably drilled, they sat on their labeled plastic chairs aligned for batting order, waiting their turn to get up there and keep their nose on the ball, squish the bug with their back foot and drill it past my flailing six-year-olds. Gordon Ho's squad knew how to hit the cutoff man. No one else's team even knew what a cutoff man was. Get burned once by Gordon and suddenly your coaching fires turned toward revenge. You found yourself drilling weak hitters to open their stance and hit down the third base line (a tough play for a T-ball third sacker to deal with). You stacked your best player at first base but then let the pitcher know it was okay to pick up the ball and run it to first if she could get the out. "Character counts" our little park insists—a message you heed until you start losing.

On the other side of the field, Gordon Ho's parents were a happy group. "He's so well organized." "Johnny's having so much fun." I learned back then that the surest way to keep park parents happy is to win. Beeman Park is known as a haven for the untalented ballplayer, a paradise for losers, where ten-year-old bums who couldn't cut it in Sherman Oaks can play poorly in peace. Yet, when a parent says to me, "Gordon is such a nice coach," I know the subtext reads: "We just beat you twenty-seven to two and I'm flying high on victory."

Americans say they love an underdog, but it's the Yankees who draw well on the road, not the Expos. We really like power dynasties, whether they are in sports or politics. It centers us to feel we're aligned with a winning team. It orders our world and it matters not whether we hate what the victors stand for—which is usually money, either in the form of big Yankee payrolls or big political fundraising. We just like winning.

As it turned out, we played the Levines on Opening Day. Their coach glumly walked past our third base dugout after the first inning. He shook his head and muttered, "They're not that good." We had scored three runs off one of the Levines and Coach Alan was looking at the wreckage of an entire season stretching out before him.

What if they were not weapons of mass destruction after all? What if their threat existed in our heads as an addict's illusion, a fiction we created because we loved the thrill of creating a powerful enemy we could defeat? Who would be our champions then?

—EFQ

 

KEN LaZEBNIK is the founder of Elysian Fields Quarterly.

© 2003 Ken LaZebnik

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