Norlander's column: Fielding their dreams
Published 1:17 pm, Wednesday, July 7, 2010
Last year, on the heels of the 11-year-old Cal Ripken team winning a district title, I wrote about the state of Little League baseball in New Canaan. I wrote about how the future appeared to be bright, as the teams continued to win and buck the trend of baseball being a weaker sport in this town.
I'm happy to report more of the same, really.
I'm writing this column on the night of the New Canaan 70's majors team defeating Norwalk in the only way it seems to know how to: with a come-from-behind, dramatic win. Amazing how they did it again. I don't know if they'll win two in a row (by defeating Norwalk again Wednesday night) and keep their baseball summer alive. By the time you read this in Friday's newspaper, the season could be over. If that's so, at least the New Canaan boys gave spectators one more classic, patented performance.
What I do know: This is the most clutch, reliable team of players I have ever seen at the Little League level. It's rather ridiculous, really, that a team could continue, year after year, to win they way this one does. There's not much of a sense of urgency until a multi-run deficit becomes the scenario in which the New Canaan All Stars are faced with.
I'm not afraid to brag about not being duped by the early transgressions of Tuesday's game. Sure, Norwalk had already defeated New Canaan once. It was in the opening round of this tournament -- last Saturday, in fact. So with a 2-0 lead, New Canaan struck, and struck quickly. Zack Smith's three-run bomb over the right-center fence to give New Canaan a commanding 6-2 lead in the fifth inning was as dramatic as it was expected.
"Here we were, we were down and they were bringing in their No. 1 pitcher, who shut us down Saturday," head coach Paul Giusti said. "To come in and really swing the bats like we did, to be aggressive at the plate, it's a testament to how these boys never quit."
But what about the fielding? That's what I'd really like to get to. Words can't do justice for the two catches Colin Tiller made Tuesday. Tiller's a pint-sized player who's too young to give a care about throwing his body around. The scene: it's the third inning, and Norwalk's threatening with two men on base.
"Colin Tiller's defense has improved tremendously," Giusti said. "When that ball was hit to center, I thought he was going to catch it, it was just a question if he had enough real estate."
A flare to center field threatens to fall quickly and bloat the Norwalk lead. But no. Tiller dives toward the ground and snares the ball against the seemingly fragile frame of his flat chest. It's the third out, and everyone on the New Canaan side bursts out into cheer at the spectacular catch.
And it's going to be his second-best of the night.
The hit-the-fence-and-catch-the-ball-to-save-a-home-run move he pulled off in the seventh? Yeah, that tops the list.
And it's more than just Tiller. The coaches on this team have been able to teach these kids the value of strong fielding. Who knows how many runs have been saved this year because of glove discipline. Even David Giusti got his glove on a rifle to third base -- the shot was so hard it knocked the glove off Giusti's hand. But the ball stayed in the mitt even as it hit the dirt.
Kane Curtin is another player to be included on the "gold glove" list on this team. He made a big catch in the bottom of the sixth to save a run.
I don't want to overdo it when I talk about this team, but it's more than just talent. Yeah, there are a few swing-for-the-fence players, but a lot of boys on this team are undersized and not yet entering into adolescence from a physical standpoint.
"Everybody from the last couple of years have embraced it," Paul Giusti said of the team's camaraderie and refusal to be negative when losing in a game.
I sit here and write this and am so happy for all the players involved. I still find Little League baseball to be a cherished pastime in this country, and have not once ever seen parents from either side inject themselves into the games in a negative way. I've seen it at the high school level, but during the summer (perhaps people are more relaxed?) Parent Anger has not reared its ugly head.
It was refreshing to see this team, this core of players, back again and largely unchanged. Still energetic, still somewhat shy, still one of the best the state has to offer in Little League.
I just hope they can save some of this mojo for the varsity level a few years down the road. Think of the culture change around the high school program by the time these players get to that level. The youth baseball movement, and the talent that's coming with it, looks as promising as any other sport in this town.