Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Locals show grace in loss at Dixie Boys World Series

CHRISTIANSBURG -- The morning began with the Burger King cashier wishing them luck, peaked when they took a 2-0 lead in the first inning, then ended with Drew Dunn's long fly ball slicing through a drizzly sky and settling into the glove of South Carolina center fielder Shane Bishop for the last out.



Hardly devastated.

Twenty years from now, when these Christiansburg teens have become husbands and fathers and want to tell their children about playing in the Dixie Boys World Series, I doubt they'll mention this. Few will relay the story of Monday's 13-2 loss to the talented squad from Sumter, S.C., a contest halted after 4 12 innings thanks to the mercy rule.

They're much more likely to talk about Sunday night's thrilling rally from a five-run deficit to beat Georgia and stay alive.

They'll talk about outlasting Tennessee, Texas and Georgia in a tournament staged in their hometown.

If they're to speak of a loss at all, they'll be more inclined to dust off the hard-luck tale from Sunday morning, when Arkansas defeated them 2-1 on a walk-off wild pitch.

But what happened Monday at Harkrader Sports Complex deserves to be remembered, too -- more than anything, for the way they handled the disappointment.

"We went out there and gave it our best shot," Christiansburg first baseman Seth Wills said. "We don't have anything to hang our heads about. We're all happy for that. We're happy to have the experience, happy to have the chance to do this."

If you cringe a bit upon reading those words, well, I understand. We're trained not to accept losing on any level. Dixie and Little League both call their championships the "World Series," for goodness sake. We hear World Series, we think big. We have no other choice.

But then we remember that these kids are 13 and 14. And if life lessons are truly what matter in youth sports, it's good to see that they're still being taught.

For every horror story we hear about a coach attacking an umpire, or some parent losing his mind and scrapping in the stands, there are thousands of games every day that go just like Monday's did.

Somebody wins. Somebody loses.

Nobody showboats. Nobody cries.

"It was a great thing playing with home-field advantage," Christiansburg catcher Jordan Fenton said. "Today we just didn't come out good. I had a lot of fun and everything; we just didn't have enough pitching."

Often, high-level tournaments like this provide players their first real exposure to crowds and pressure. Equally important -- yet rarely celebrated -- is another thing these tournaments do: Teach your kids how to get their butts whipped gracefully.

South Carolina starter John Patrick Sears was fantastic, allowing just one hit while fanning 12 of the 15 Christiansburg batters he retired. Yet you didn't hear whining about the strike zone or see anybody toss a bat. The hosts just kept swinging.

South Carolina batted around in the third and fourth innings. Yet there was no dirt-kicking or head-hanging from the Christiansburg kids in the field. They just kept playing.

"Man," Christiansburg's Gabe Quesenberry said as he reached the bench after the bottom of the fourth. "They've been doing drum line on the ball."

Seconds later, Dunn turned around.

"Off the bench, guys!" he chirped.

And suddenly they were up, standing along the fence, hoping for at least a two-run rally to stave off the 10-run rule.

It never came.

After the last out, the teams shook hands. Then, keeping with tradition, the Christiansburg boys jogged out to center field to retrieve the Virginia flag -- the ceremonial snuffing out of their Dixie Boys World Series torch.

"I think we did OK," Dunn said. "We could have done better, though."

"We could have given that team a better game," Wills said. "But oh, well."

The boys grabbed their stuff and headed for the parking lot.

I don't know what they did next. I'm guessing -- and hoping -- it involved pizza.

Weather Journal

News tips, photos and feedback?
Sign up for free daily news by email