Little League dynasties hard to find

Earlier this week, on the very same evening that the Boston Red Sox 2004 and 2007 World Series trophies were on display in Burlington, the Lincoln Little League team made some history of its own. On Wednesday night, for the first time in 22 years, Lincoln won the Mount Abraham District Little League Championship.
“We’ve started a dynasty,” said Turner Brett, 11, the team’s second baseman, as he gazed at the championship trophy, which is almost as tall as some of the fifth- and sixth-graders on the team. Brett went three for three in the championship game, a 14 to nothing shutout of the New Haven Wildcats. Sawyer Kamman, the 12-year-old starting pitcher, hurled a no-hitter in the abbreviated contest. Sean Wood, the sixth-grade shortstop, pounded a triple. And Austin Lafayette, also 12, cleared the left-center field fence with his eighth home run of the season. (It’s important to note that the New Haven ballplayers are extremely talented, too, and had an excellent year. Making it to the championship game is no shabby accomplishment and they should be very proud.)
The irony, of course, is that while this may be the start of an era for Lincoln, it is just as likely the end of one. It’s no easier to repeat in Little League than it is in the Major League. It’s not that the star players will be lured to other teams by lucrative contracts or management will make wrongheaded trades that will undermine the team chemistry.
It’s the reality that little boys and girls grow up and move on.
Alan Kamman, the Lincoln skipper, observed after the victory that a lot of the reason for the team’s success in 2008 was simple longevity. “The team has been together for four years,” he said. “They’ve been playing together since they were in the pee-wee league — since the minors.”
Now most of them will enter seventh grade and leave Little League behind. Certainly many will continue to play baseball and a few years from now some will succeed with the Mount Abraham Union High School Eagles: Five of the Lincoln players will be on the area All Star team, which is just half of the 11-man squad.
Yup, 11. That’s how many players Kamman had at his disposal. (“Yeah, you don’t do a lot of pinch hitting. And no pinch running,” he observed.)
I love Little League. I only got to see parts of three games this year, and that was a loss for me. It’s not just the innocence of the players and the naive hopefulness that marks their approach. It’s not their inadvertent — and thus absolutely glorious — mimicry of the mannerisms of their Major League idols.
Rather, it’s the unique idiosyncrasies that mark the fields and the fans and, yes, the players. That home run that Austin Lafayette hit? It landed in a swamp. Where do the Lincoln diehards in the stands get their hot dogs in the second or third inning? The Love Shack, a portable shanty that local pallet mill owner Dan Adam gives to the league for the season, so the moms and dads have a place to cook up the franks when it rains. And the players? Their uniforms are green and the town begins with an “L,” and so this year they called themselves the Lincoln Lizards. A little alliteration goes a long way.
Kamman coached with but three rules. Using his fingers he enumerated them for me: “One, have fun. Three, do your best. And two? No hurting Al. Some of those kids have gunshots for arms.”
Last week I alluded to the boys of summer, the Brooklyn Dodgers from the late 1940s and 1950s. This week I got to spend time with the real boys of summer — all of whom, before we know it, will be grownups themselves. It makes building a dynasty difficult. But it sure makes for a great evening at the Little League ball field.
Congratulations to both Lincoln and New Haven. Thanks for another wonderful season.
(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on June 22, 2008.)

Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.