When the innocence of youth and the game of baseball come together special things can happen. But in today’s world of competitive youth sports, we often lose sight of it. The first year that Vs Cancer came to West Raleigh Baseball, I was lucky enough to be coaching a special little team called “The Bees”. The Bees were a bunch of 6,7, and 8 year olds learning to play the game. In the end, they learned something much more valuable.
I remember as the season progressed, we were not just winning games but we began collecting pledges for Vs Cancer. Eleven of the twelve players decided they would shave their heads during the big Vs Cancer event at the end of the season. One six year old, nicknamed “The Tank”, decided to collect donations but said he wouldn’t, just couldn’t, shave his beautiful full head of wavy blonde hair. But who could blame him, it was truly beautiful! I also remember that after each game whether we won or lost, the highlight for the players and parents alike was not recapping how many hits or great fielding plays we made but rather hearing the update on our Vs Cancer fund raising amount. “Our grand total is ____”, at which point everyone would cheer and clap and say “we can do more”! We gathered momentum both on the field and for the Vs Cancer Foundation. We kept pushing our fund raising goals higher and higher and that is what began to define our team.
The day of the Vs Cancer event was something special. Our team had 3 losses and was the underdog. We were playing the number #1 team in the league who was on a roll and had just 2 losses. If we won the game, we would be regular season champs but if we lost we’d drop back to 3rd. However, through the Vs Cancer journey, our kids had begun to understand that they were winners not because of baseball but because they were helping others! That day, Chase Jones talked to the team and explained what it was like to live in a pediatric cancer ward for long periods of time. He explained how the money we raised would not only help fight cancer through research but would also buy Wii play stations and games for the kids battling cancer so they too could just be kids again, just like our little Bees. We all fought back tears as Chase talked and it was at that point that our players really understood at a much deeper level, and so did the parents. Our boys and parents truly had a new perspective on life!
The coaches printed some cards that read, “Today, I did something Big, really Big, Bigger than baseball. Today I helped someone in need.” We told the kids to put the cards in their back pockets and if they ever were nervous or lacked confidence during the game to stick their hand in their pocket, feel the card and remind themselves that they had already accomplished more than they could ever accomplish on the baseball field; they were already winners!
Did we win the regular season Championship?
Did we win the Tournament Championship?
Did Tank shave his head that day?
That year the Bees raised $8,700 for Vs Cancer and West Raleigh raised over $30,000…so do the answers to those questions really matter? That day they did something really big, they helped someone in need!
by Bruce LaMattina, former head coach West Raleigh Baseball Association