MY SON'S baseball season ended last Saturday with a hard line drive to right. His team, Wootton High School, lost to Gaithersburg, 2-0, in the first round of the Maryland AA Region I playoffs.
The kids and their coaches, Rhett Ross and Bob Hampton, walked off the home field after the final game with their heads held high, disappointed, but each knowing how much they'd accomplished winning the regular season county AA title with a 14-2 record.
Their parents, however, did not walk off the field. Instead, most of us sat in the bleachers, too stunned to move, too unhappy to be logical (it was, after all, only an extracurricular activity for our kids) and too proud of them to just say "nice try" and let it go at that.
So we sat there in the sun for a long time. It seemed like 20 hours. No matter that last year Wootton won only five games, and the year before just three. This year, our kids spoiled us good, winning games they could have easily lost, coming from behind several times, holding on when you knew the opponent was about to explode, grabbing first place early in the season and holding on, until . . . .
Our kids could go on to other things (dates, friends, college, MTV). What did we have? Most of us had seen our kids play in 2,200 athletic events since they were 7 (I count each soccer game twice) and can accept the losses with the victories. Some of us even have younger children we can pressure.
"But this is different," said Nina Spicer, whose son, Scott, is a good catcher whose aggressive style sometimes irritated opposing coaches and excited National Hockey League scouts. "This never should have happened, because these are our kids and this was our year and it was their time."
But it did happen, and when it did, the kids handled the loss better than their parents. Including the father who has attempted to be coolly objective during his 25 years insports journalism and used to scoff at a certain coach who once told him, "losing is like death." Last weekend, I had to agree with that old coach-philosopher, George Allen, especially when I began to visually fantasize (what a fabulous midlife crisis I'm in) a different outcome to Saturday's game and ponder how we would have done against Wheaton Tuesday if Gaithersburg hadn't earned the chance. (Wheaton beat Gaithersburg, 9-0, for the title).
The father, thankfully, began to pull himself together and come to his senses two days after "Elimination" when Nina Spicer's husband, Fred, asked, "Was there a game?"
And Dee Arata, whose son Tommy helped win two late-season games with home runs even though he's only a sophomore, said she would have to go on with the rest of her life. The same Dee Arata who at the Wootton-Springbrook game two weeks ago turned her back to the playing field and instead fastened her eyes to a pond behind the fence for nearly two hours.
Ihave good friends whose children excel in music and love to build things. They revel in their youngsters' academic triumphs and take them to concerts. What they haven't experienced, however, is the feeling in the pit of your stomach when the game is on the line and your kid can win or lose it for his team.
My friend asks why should a baseball game be considered more important than a piano recital? I have no good answer, other than to say it is, and that I hope my son can take the lessons from his May batting slump to college with the knowledge that freshman English has to be easier than going 0-for-5 against Springbrook.
Nevertheless, when the season is assessed, what will matter most are the moments from games, when a kid's success could light up the faces of his teammates; when the kids knew they were so much better than they'd ever been before and by the sixth game of the season were offically contenders.
They were coached by two men who enjoyed helping them play to their potential; and encouraged by a group of parents, who while getting a little carried away at times (can I ever go to Wheaton again?), thrilled at the success of their children.
So Mike Hayden, let me say you really were a fine leadoff hitter and second baseman and while some Seneca Valley parents thought you talked too much, I liked the way you handled yourself these past three years. Tony Riggs, a sophomore, will save his parents tuition money by earning a scholarship in two years. Rich Gregorio hit with power as a senior and set a standard for his sophomore brother, Dennis, to try to match.
Jimmy Baker played third base all season with a pin in his leg from a football injury while his father stood to my left and Hayden's father to my right -- all of us trying to get Jimmy not to drop his hands while hitting. Spicer was a terrific catcher and could make all-Met next year as a senior if he isn't first signed by the Philadelphia Flyers to replace Ron Hextall.
Arata has an excellent swing and will be a star next year, as will rightfielder Al Lightsey, who reminds me of Al Kaline, whom Al Lightsey never heard of. Jason Hsu, Jeff Youngs and Richard Choi were key reserves and David Nicklas came on strong as a second starting pitcher.
The star of the team, without a doubt, was senior left-handed pitcher Steve Betz, whose 8-2 record and under-1.50 ERA should get him a college scholarship someplace. Four years ago, as a freshman, Betz was cut from the junior-varsity team. Coach Ross helped teach him how to pitch; his parents taught him class.
Finally, Aaron Solomon, the left-handed-hitting first baseman, almost batted .400 as a sophomore, fell below .250 as a junior and then put up Eric Davis-type numbers for the first month of his senior season before coming back to earth with a thud. And when he came to bat for the last time as a high school ballplayer, the score was 0-2, with two outs and no one on base in the bottom of the last inning. He wanted a base hit to keep the season going; his mother and I had more modest goals: "Please don't let him strike out to end the season," Hazel Solomon whispered.
"No way," I thought. "The kid stood at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem last month. He can't K."
Check the book: F-9; end of high school baseball career. Great fun.
George Solomon is the Post's assistant managing editor in charge of sports coverage.