It was 2003 and I was sitting on the bench inside the dugout during a summer Little League® All-Star Practice. Only three years old, I was next to my mom with my glove and baseball hat on just waiting for my turn to play. Since I was too young to be on the team, I was watching my two older brothers who were playing in Toms River, N.J., where Little League Baseball® is everything.
The practices each day were two hours long, but that was just fine by me because there was no place I would rather be. As each practice neared its end, I heard that familiar voice from the field yell out: “is there anybody who hasn’t hit yet?” The coach would walk off the mound toward the dugout, look right at me, and then say “come on buddy, it’s your turn to hit.”
I’d scurry over to my bat bag to get my helmet and bat as the team prepared for my batting practice session. Everybody stayed in their normal positions in the field as warnings from the infielders to the outfielders came calling in: “back up, the slugger is at the plate!” It was the highlight of my day and I knew that some day I would get to play in Little League.
Fast forward to the summer of 2007 when my parents were looking for a home on Long Island. After they decided on a home and finished the paperwork, they informed me about the move, and we went for a drive to see the house. After a long, two-hour drive, the car came to a stop and my father said “come on Johnny, let’s check this place out.” Expecting to see our new house, I peered over the door frame out my window and there it was – no, not the house, something much better, a baseball field.
My mom got me out of the car, and I ran to center field. I looked back and saw my dad close the trunk and start walking my way with my baseball equipment. “The house can wait, this is where we are actually going to live anyway,” he said as we headed to home plate to play. That day, my parents were introduced to my true love for the game of baseball, as my mom had to call the owners of the house we were buying to let them know we would be an hour late.
I played Little League from 2008 to 2013. I have countless memories and learned many lessons through these seasons, but it was my last year during the spring of 2013 that the full sense of what Little League is about connected all the memories and lessons that came before.
I was 12 years old and all my previous years of practice and refining my pitching was really starting to blossom as I was peaking as a Little Leaguer®. The night before the draft, my father (who was also my coach) sat me down and told me that I wouldn’t be pitching this spring. Of course, I was confused and angry with him. How could this be, it was finally my time to be on top?
My father explained to me that this Little League experience wasn’t about being at the top of the league; it was about the journey along the way and an opportunity to look back at that journey and pay it forward in the now.
That’s a lot to digest for a 12-year-old kid that looks and throws like he is 14, but that was the way it was going to be. My coach explained that Little League is a community and there was nothing to gain from having kids younger and smaller than you being scared to step up to the plate for an at-bat. He told me that life is about being revered, not feared, and that sportsmanship will always win the day.
During that 12-year-old season, I played and watched as our team went 6-6 and got knocked out of the playoffs in the semifinals. I sat on the bench, played in the outfield, and hit last in the lineup to make sure that all kids got an equal chance and experience. While I didn’t get to pitch like all my other 12-year-old friends, I got the chance to see the game from a new perspective and understand that there was a greater purpose to Little League.
Since my last Little League at-bat (it was a double to right center), I have stepped into my current role as a Little League volunteer, putting in more than 300 hours of dedicated time. I’ve had the opportunity to coach my little brother and all his friends, teaching them the fundamentals of the game and the importance of teamwork while sharing my stories along the way. I have been fortunate to give the pre-game pep talks that instill confidence in the children, to keep them smiling when they return to the dugout after a strike out, and to cheer them on when they make a play or score a run. At the end of each practice, I let them know that I would love to stay and keep playing, but I have to go home and do my homework; knowing that the subliminal message is sometimes much more powerful than then a strong and direct instruction to do something.
Now in my senior year of high school, I’ve had the chance to look back on my Little League experience. I didn’t have one person that was my biggest inspiration, but rather an entire organization. Little League was the vehicle that brought me through my precious childhood years. It connected my family, and I to a community and friends that will stay with me for my lifetime.
Soon I will be graduating from high school heading off to college. During our campus visit, we had a chance to check out the dorms and I was shocked to see the size of the room that I would be sharing with another person. My mom told me that I would not be able to bring most of my stuff and only the bare necessities. I looked at her and said “that’s fine, at least I can bring my 8-year-old all-star jersey and hang it over my bed.” There will always be a place for that.
About the Author: High-School senior, John Pesce, submitted this essay based on his experience at Babylon Little League and received a $750 college scholarship to attend Quinnipiac University from the league.