Getting here was beyond tough...
"PLAYING IN THE WORLD SERIES IS LIKE
A WALK IN THE PARK"
A WALK IN THE PARK"
by Charles Frye
With a fist full of medals, Justin Baylor talked about what he described as the greatest accomplishment in his young baseball career, playing in the Pony World Series. Yet, before going further, he did want to make something perfectly clear and did so by stating, "You know we didn't win?" I quickly mentioned "neither did seven other teams from various parts of the world." Silently he shook his head in acknowledgement and then continued: "I just mentioned that because you may be talking to the wrong guy."
"How so?" I prodded
"Well, there is a team of happy players over there that did win (pointing to the celebrating winners) and then there's the team over there that seems just as happy about taking runner-up. I don't know, I'm just thinking maybe they could tell you more."
"Perhaps, but they're busy, and I just as soon talk to you. Besides, those players only won one more game than you."
With a smile, as if that was a nice fit, "That surely is one way to look at it."
To keep the conversation moving, I quickly added, "I saw your team lose."
"So did I and I was a few feet closer," he said with a smile and in what seemed more like an afterthought said, "But let me add this: Playing in the World Series is a great experience, win or lose it is great and there are only three degrees of greatness in the World Series: Champion, Runner-up, and then Participant." Everyone here gets a medal and every team playing in the competition gets a banner. The only real difference is the color of the medal, not the intensity, not the effort, and surely not the pride of getting here. They rightfully got the gold," pointing to the World Champions "and they rightfully got the silver as runner-up; and we rightfully earned the bronze. No complaint here."
"You don't have to convince me," I said, adding, "As I just mentioned I saw your team eliminated, but I also saw your team in some tough competition in lower level tournaments; so I know your team's strength." (He offered a quick "Thank you.") In doing an assessment, do you think you could have beat either of those teams that were just in the Championship Game?"
"Let me say what I firmly believe: Any team here can beat any other team here on any given day."
"Continue," I coaxed.
"Well, as I see it, going all the way back to the District Championship, which by the way we lost, progressing through Section, Region, Zone, and then Super Zone, all of which we won or took runner-up and advanced, the winning itself depended on which team had the right stuff at that crucial moment in time. The crucial moment was the game. It didn't matter what the team did the day before or what it could do the next day. It was what they could do in the now, in the game, game after game. (Stopping for a breather)
"They (motioning toward the champions) were the victors - 'today.'" (Emphasizing today.) But today just happens to be the gold medal day so it is a very significant win. (After a pause, continuing) If you have enough pitchers with the right stuff on game day, you have a good chance of advancing. I do want to say this as well, but not too loudly, there are teams that are not in the World Series that could have, if not outright should have, beat us but didn't. We saw great teams. We either lucked out and didn't have to play them or we did play them and we just happen to get the breaks at the right time. There is no illusion here, no grandiosity, no chest thumping."
"What do you attribute your success to?" I asked.
"Great group of players, not just great ball players. Guys that really care for each other. These are my brothers. Then there's the manager. He sets the tone for the team. He's the anchor during our drifting moments. If I make an error he asks, 'Is that the way you wanted that to go down?' How can I answer that? 'Sure, I meant to miss it so the centerfielder could try and make a spectacular 8-2 throw out at home plate.' He expects us to support one another, but he didn't have to tell us to do that. We just do that. Then there's our parents. Always supportive of every player, not just their son. I love that. I also want to say this, I saw great, great teams get eliminated and they had pride and they had character and it showed. It was humbling to watch them in their time of great defeat. Their heads were high and when they passed for a high five they said things like 'Good luck going forward' and they meant it."
"How do you know they meant it?" I asked.
"I know that," stopping momentarily, "because that is just what I told that team over there when they eliminated us and I meant it. If I ever start feeling bad for not winning, which I won't, I would simply think back to the hundred plus teams that were in all the tournaments we played and we were the last team standing in our Zone. Also, there were a thousand plus players on all those teams that did play great but didn't make it here, but we did. It is easy for me to put this loss in the right prospective"
As I shook his hand and said goodbye Justin said, "One more thing I want to say; getting here was beyond tough; playing in the World Series is like a walk in the park."