Ross Maak: For the sake of the game |

Ross Maak: For the sake of the game

Do you know someone who is simply waaaay too competitive?

You know, that guy who refuses to lose? That person who doesn’t hesitate to pick a fight with a teammate, opponent or parent at, say, a beer-league softball game?

(Forgive my penchant for movie quotes, but Bob Uecker said it best in Major League. “This guy threw at his own kid in a father-son game.”)

I may have found a cure.

Take them to a Little League Challenger Division baseball game.

Winner? Who cares? It’s immaterial. Loser? There is no such thing.

The Challenger League, headed by Nevada City resident Tom Dever, is a sanctioned and supported division of Little League and is specifically for developmentally disabled children and participants. They play on Sunday afternoons and the league grew from seven players four years ago to 42 players and four teams this year.

A few of the players got together on Thursday night at Pioneer Park in Nevada City for an opportunity to play under the lights.

I was there, and the memory of what I saw remains.

A catch, a hit, a great throw or crossing the plate for a score brings a smile to the face of a child that has the power to light up the world.

Attend one of these games. After seeing the true power of sports and what an accomplishment can mean to a person, if you still hold on to an ultra-competitive spirit, seek professional help.

Not even six batters into the game, if I hadn’t been surrounded by people and standing in a public park I probably would have cried. I had to fight back tears watching as each player took a hack at the plate and raced to first.

Some did it all on their own, some had help getting their wheelchairs up to the plate, but every one of them got a hit, and every one of them raced to first. Innings ended with grand slams before the fun started all over again with a new group of batters.

Words don’t describe it.

Pictures come closer, but still don’t capture the story.

In this case, you really “must be present to win.”

Just the simple act of playing catcher and throwing the ball back to the pitcher can make a child so unbelievably happy they look as if they might explode. And that says nothing for crossing the plate for a score. It left me wondering how their hearts stood up to all the excitement and happiness.

As I stood there watching, I kept thinking to myself, “Boy, I really should get back to the office.”

Yet there I stood, unable to pull myself away. Each time, I was glad I stayed. I heard and saw some of the most touching moments I’ve experienced as a reporter.

Heard from the crowd after a home run: “Who’s the star out there, huh?” … “That’s MY boy!”

One batter, struggling to make contact, wondered aloud, “Who’s pitching, anyway?”

The answer? Tom Dever. (He didn’t look too insulted.)

High fives were a dime a dozen.

One player couldn’t help but lift his helmet in a curtain call after crossing the plate for a score.

A young girl not only called her shot Babe Ruth style, pointing to center field with her bat, but stood on the plate after she scored and did a little victory dance.

One batter looked to his mom in the stands and said those magic words, “I can’t wait to tell dad!”

I bet dad was happy to hear about it, too.


To contact Sports Writer Ross Maak, e-mail or call 477-4244.

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