Think major league baseball is competitive? Try little league.

baseball

“It’s the bottom of the last inning, The Rays are up by two runs, and there are two outs. Can they hold on for the win? Here comes the pitch. And it’s strike one! Here comes the next pitch. Strike two! This kid is on fire! Here comes the next pitch and….it’s strike three! The Rays win it!”

That wasn’t the end of the last Oriole’s game against Tampa Bay. That was Corey’s second playoff game, the game his little league team, The Rays, played against the number one team in the league, the White Sox. At the end, Corey was the catcher, teamed up with a boy who is the best pitcher I’ve seen in this age bracket – he’s the closer, and together he and Corey make a lethal duo. The Rays were clearly the underdogs, but they played hard and never gave up. The win sent every parent and grandparent on the sidelines to their feet in a standing ovation, and almost all of us had tears in our eyes. The win sent our underdogs to the championship game.

When Corey was diagnosed with tricuspid atresia, his father’s first heartbroken words were “no sports.” He’d grown up playing baseball himself, and now we thought our firstborn son would have no chance to experience this part of growing up. If he lived at all. But in time we learned, from Corey’s pediatric cardiologists, that he could “self regulate.” So we tried soccer. Too much running. We tried t-ball, and he loved it. And he was good at it – right from the beginning. He’s smart, and he’s got great hand-eye coordination. It didn’t take long for him to decide that baseball was his sport.

That was six years ago. Once Corey switched from t-ball to baseball, that was the end of participation trophies. He hasn’t earned a trophy in years. Last night, at the championship game, he finally had a crack at being number one and bringing home that trophy. And oh, he wanted it. And we wanted it for him.

Our boys went into last night’s game against the number two team. Still the underdogs. Still with great attitudes. They stood up to the pressure, including all of their wild banshee screaming parents (ahem, guilty – I am THAT parent) endlessly cheering on the sidelines. We were all glued to our seats, calling out “good eye” and “good swing” and “nice hit” and “great pitch” and on and on and on. These kids are nine and ten years old, and they just went out there and did it.

But did they win? Or did they crush our dreams of victory and a shiny trophy for the mantel? That’s right I said “our dreams” – at the beginning of the season, we were losing left and right, and I wasn’t particularly invested in anything other than just a learning season. By last night I was all in – I wanted that trophy for my kid like a junky wants his next hit. I think the only person who wanted it more was Damian. All that sports intensity that just lives inside him came right out last night.

It all came down to the last inning once again. In little league, a maximum of five runs are allowed in any inning except the last inning, when a team may score unlimited runs in order to win the game. We were up 13-7, but they shut us down and stopped our boys from scoring even a single run in the last inning. We had to hold them, just like the previous game. Out came Corey as catcher and the closer to pitch.

I sat on the edge of my chair, bit my nails, and watched the umpire. They allowed one base hit. But no more. In no time flat, the closer struck out three kids and the crowd roared to its feet in a victory cheer! They did it! The boy with a half a heart played a banner game and helped his team to win the championship game. Did I mention that the trophy sure looks nice on our mantel? Nothing quite like the words “first place.”

And did I mention that Corey, along with two of his other teammates, made the all star team? Practice starts tonight…. One last thought – IN YOUR FACE, CHD!

Corey – Honorary Bat Boy for the Oriole’s!

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Corey played another great season of baseball this year. He’s been playing since he was four years old. He loved it, and he’s good at it. For us, it’s another miracle; the child with half a heart can play a legitimate sport.

After one of his games this year he came home with a contest entry form. It was for the Chick-Fil-A Honorary Bat Kids Sweeptstakes. I barely looked at the form. How many sweepstakes have I entered in my life and won? Zero. Actually that’s not true – I won free lunch for the office once from a radio station maybe 15 years ago. Anyway, I just thought, “He’s never going to win.” But Corey was insistent, so I offered him a pen, an envelope and a stamp, and I told him that if he wanted to enter, he’d have to handle it himself. He did.

And he won. Corey was not surprised by the win. Me, I was shocked. I spoke to a Baltimore Oriole’s representative, and he gave me the contest details as well as the basics of the prize, which were as follows:

“This summer Chick-fil-A and the Baltimore Orioles have teamed up to present the Bat Kids Sweepstakes. Children ages 6-14 can enter to win the title Honorary Bat Kid at an Oriole’s game this summer.

Winners will be given:

  • Early on-field Access before general public admission
  • One-on-one interaction with players
  • Autographs
  • Pre-game Ceremony featured on the jumbotron with the Oriole Bird and Chick-fil-A Cow
  • Co-branded Orioles and Chick-fil-A t-shirt
  • Four game tickets
  • Chick-fil-A Prize Pack filled with coupons and free prizes
  • Congratulatory Certificate
  • Memorable photo of the on-field ceremony

Winners will also be able to watch Batting Practice from in front of the Orioles Dugout for one hour during Orioles Batting Practice.”

Wow! First we scheduled a game to attend, which was Thursday, June 12th against the Toronto Blue Jays at Camden Yards. We were given four free tickets, meaning our family was able to attend together. Next, I spoke with the Chick-Fil-A rep, and he asked us to come to the local store to pick up our prize, which was touted as “Free Chick-Fil-A for a year!” – it’s actually 52 chicken sandwiches. Still awesome, don’t get me wrong. We picked up the prize and had our picture taken with the cow. Photos of that are in the June 10th Chick-Fil-A facebook feed.

The night of the Camden Yards Oriole’s game arrived, and it was pouring down rain. Buckets. Cats and dogs. Pick a cliche. I was pretty sure the game was going to be rained out and Noah’s Ark was going to make an appearance. However, we were mostly concerned that Corey wouldn’t get to experience the pre-game activities. The game was scheduled to start at 7:05, but we were asked to arrive by 4:30 for Corey’s activities. At 4:30, we met the Oriole’s rep, Brian, at Home Plate Plaza, he handed Corey a t-shirt, hat, and professional ball and asked him to put on the shirt & hat. Corey changed quickly in the nearby restroom, and then he headed off with Brian.

Corey was supposed to watch batting practice, but the ball players weren’t batting. They were practicing their kayaking skills. However, Corey did get to spend time with the players in the dugout. Not too shabby. He got his ball signed by 7 current players. He was also given a tour of the locker room and the press box. Corey chatted the players up and returned to us grinning like a fool. He also got 3 signatures from former players who just happened to be at Camden Yards offering to sign fan paraphernalia.

Not long after, Corey was allowed on the field for a certificate ceremony with another little girl. We had to stay behind, but we were able to get close to the field to watch. During this ceremony, Corey and the other girl appeared on the jumbotron with the Chick-Fil-A cow and the Oriole’s mascot. Brian asked Corey to wave to his family. Corey interpreted “wave to your family” to mean “act like a maniac.” Corey was such a ham that the other people on the field laughed and clapped for him. That child is no shrinking violet.

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We grabbed some food for dinner and found our seats. Miraculously, the rain stopped, the tarps were rolled back, and the ball game started on time! We stayed for a few innings, and the boys loved it. It was late, though, and a school night, so we left before the game was even half over. As I tucked Corey into bed that night, he asked me to let him know, first thing in the morning, if the Oriole’s won. (They did.)

It’s a night he’ll remember for the rest of his life.