Here's to the Winners

Here's to the Winners
Mo'ne Davis, Pennsylvania Little League pitcher

Here’s To the Winners

Here’s to the winners, lift up the glasses,
Here’s to the glory still to be.
Here’s to the battle, whatever it’s for
To ask the best of ourselves, then give much more.  Joseph Raposo

How many of you have children, grandchildren, students, friends who engage in competitive activities? How many of you have sat and watched them put everything they had and then some into what they were doing, only to be outdone by someone else in the end? And how many of you have watched them leave the stage, the field, the track, heads down and wondered what to say to them?

Many years ago, my son ran track at New Trier. He was good—very good. Sometimes he won, and sometimes he didn’t. Win or lose, I was always there to cheer him on. A friend and I used to ask ourselves what kind of idiots went to watch our offspring start a race, then sat for an hour in freezing cold to watch them finish (they ran cross country)? The answer was simple, “Mothers”.

Early on, my son would leave the track dejected if he lost—critical of himself, his performance, and of the fact that he thought he had disappointed me. Nothing could have been further from the truth. I couldn’t have been prouder of him (still am) for trying, for running his best, and for his sportsmanlike conduct in congratulating those who outran him on that day. And I told him as much. I think he understood.

Like father: Scott Lucking, New Trier High School, 1970

Like father: Scott Lucking, New Trier High School, 1970

Like son: Alex Lucking, Eastside High School 2014

Like son: Alex Lucking, Eastside High School 2014

On these days, 44 years apart--they crossed their respective finish lines first. They were good days.

Fast forward a few years to an entirely different scenario. My husband and I were taking our grandson to a Halloween party at Navy Pier. There was a treasure hunt and a contest for best costume. My grandson wore a Superman outfit that didn’t have a snowball’s chance in July of winning. But he had selected it, and he loved it. When his name was called, he strutted across the stage like a true man of steel, and he got some serious applause for his performance. But, of course, he lost; because there were some really creative entries that made the poor store-bought Superman get-up look pretty cheesy. When the prizes were given out, my grandson looked at me in tears. “I didn’t win,” he sobbed. “Of course you did,” I replied. “Did you hear all of that applause when you walked across the stage? And look at that bag of candy in your hand. That’s a great prize. What’s more, you were proud of your costume, and I was proud of you.” So we sat down, gorged on candy corn, and watched a great stage show that the City had arranged for the revelers. Crisis averted.

Superman costume--really kind of cheesy

Superman costume--really kind of cheesy

Here’s to the heroes, those who move mountains.
Here’s to the miracles they make us see.
Here’s to all brothers, here’s to all people.
Here’s to the winners all of us can be.

      For the past few days, all of Chicago has been talking about and cheering for the Jackie Robinson West little league baseball team. Until now, very few outside their Morgan Park neighborhood had even heard of them. Now, they are city and national heroes. They have done what no Chicago little league team has done for 31 years. They have made it to the Little League World Series finals. After a win in a clutch do-or-die game against Pearland, Texas, WCIU sports show host Kenny McReynolds said, “These young men are heroes. Who thought a bunch of kids from 11 to 13 years old would be the heroes this city needs?” Unfazed by all the adulation, the Jackie Robinson team is taking it all in stride and preparing to play their next game on Thursday. A lot of major league stars will be rooting for them, along with thousands of others who played little league ball and never got close to a world series game.

Jackie Robinson West Little League Team, 2014

Jackie Robinson West Little League Team, 2014

But it is not really the winners I want to talk about. I want to talk about a team that almost—but didn’t quite make it to the finals: the Cumberland American Little League from Rhode Island that represented the Northeast and lost to Jackie Robinson West 8-7 on Monday night.

The young Jackie Robinson team member who hit the winning run couldn't resist a bit of showboating as he ran for the plate.  But when he realized what he had done and how the other team must have felt, good sportsmanship prevailed. He went over to their coach and apologized for his behavior. After the loss, most of the team prepared to leave the field, tears streaming down their cheeks. Until their coach, Dave Belisle, gathered them together and gave one of most moving speeches I have ever heard.

Heads up high, heads up high. I’ve gotta see your eyes guys. There’s no disappointment in your effort—in the whole tournament, the whole season. It’s been an incredible journey. Look at the score—8-7, 12-10 in hits. We came to the last out. We didn’t quit. That’s us, Boys. That’s us!

The only reason why I’ll probably end up shedding a tear is that this is the last time I’m going to coach you guys. But I’m going to bring back with me, the coaching staff is going to bring back, you guys are going to bring back what no other team can provide—that’s pride. Pride.

You’re going to take for the rest of your lives what you provided for the town of Cumberland. You had the whole place jumping, right? You had the whole state jumping. You had New England jumping. You had ESPN jumping. OK?

You want to know why? They like fighters. They like sportsmen. They like guys who don’t quit, They like guys who play the game the right way. If everyone would play baseball like the Cumberland Americans, this would be the greatest game.

The lessons you guys have learned along the journey, you’re never going to forget. We’re going to have some more fun. We have two more days of fun. When you walk around the ballpark in the next couple of days, they’re going to look at you and say, “Hey, you guys were awesome!” Everybody has said, “you guys are awesome. Absolutely awesome.

It’s okay to cry, because we’re not going to play baseball together anymore. But we’re going to be friends forever. Friends forever. Our Little League careers have ended on the most positive note that could ever be. OK? Ever be!

There’s only going to be one team that’s going to walk out of here as World Series champions. Only One. We got down to the nitty gritty. We’re one of the best teams in the world. Think about that for a second. In the world! Right?

So we need to go see our parents, because they’re so proud of you. One more thing. I want a big hug. One big hug! Then we’re going to go celebrate. Then we’re going to go back home to a big parade.

I love you guys. I’m gonna’ love you forever. You’ve given me the most precious moment in my athletic and coaching career, I’m getting to be an old man. I need memories like this. You’re all my boys. You’re the boys of summer.

So for the last time, we’re going to yell, Americans. One-two-three—Americans!

Well said, Coach Dave Belisle. You are an inspiration to the Cumberland Americans and to all Americans. Think of Coach the next time your kid doesn’t  finish first, but plays the game as well as s/he could and needs a hug.

Cumberland Americans: group hug

Cumberland Americans: group hug

 

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