July 9, 2012 11:10:54 AM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
No better words were spoken on and around a diamond on a weekend packed with softball and baseball action in the Greater Golden Triangle area.
From Louisville to Starkville to Columbus, players, coaches, parents, fans, umpires, and members of support staffs baked in the sun and avoided the rain in Mississippi Amateur Softball Association and Dizzy Dean tournament play.
In Starkville, the Columbus Nationals 10-year-old team beat Louisville 19-0 to advance to today's action against the winner of the losers' bracket championship between Louisville and Clinton.
In Columbus, Clinton beat Ackerman 22-7 in the title game of the Dizzy Dean 7-year-old South State tournament, while Starkville, Louisville, and Ackerman survived Sunday to advance to today's final round. Ackerman beat Starkville 3-0 to remain in the winners' bracket and push Starkville into a game against Louisville at 5 p.m. today. The winner of that game will take on Ackerman approximately 30 minutes after the first game. Either team will have to beat Ackerman twice to win the title and get a chance to represent the South half in the World Series later this month at Snowden Grove Park in Southaven
The results are part of the story.
In an increasingly results-oriented society, the scores often set the pace. But it was satisfying to see the final tallies weren't the most important elements for many involved in the tournaments. Instead, a large number of coaches and parents did their best to stay positive and keep their children and teams focused on the action.
Whether it was a smile and a "What's Up?" from an Okolona coach to his players on a visit to the mound or the variety of helpful comments during the course of play, the message was the same: Do your best, have fun, and play hard.
It wasn't always easy. Some players lost their cool, like Saturday when an Okolona player bumped a baserunner in frustration after an overthrow. The Okolona player recognized his mistake immediately and apologized to the other player. On Sunday, the Okolona player showed he had learned from the incident when he started the game by apologizing to the umpire. He admitted he lost his temper and that he was better than his action.
In that same game, Okolona lost one of its better players when he broke a bone in his leg in two places when he slid into third base. Okolona lost that game to Starkville, 10-8, but it regrouped from the shock of losing a team leader and didn't allow the injury to stop it from nearly staying alive in the winners' bracket.
All of those lessons weren't lost on an Okolona fan who spent most of Saturday and Sunday preparing for his day in the sun. On Sunday, the young Star, who looked to be 4 or 5 years old, followed the lead of the older Okolona players and did work with a bat. Wearing a St. Louis Cardinals cap, the future Star laid waste to balls and a batting tee. Even as the sun peaked out from the clouds Sunday, the young man ignored the heat and swung and swung and swung some more.
It likely will take a few years for that player to graduate to the 12-year-old age group and to be able to spell a word like perseverance, but the joy he showed hitting pitches or swinging at a ball on the tee brought a smile to plenty of faces.
It was also gratifying to watch coaches try to coax performances out of their players. The words "Earn everything" and "Heart doesn't quit" were just two sayings the Okolona coaches used in an attempt to keep their kids focused. Musical accompaniment, which included the classic rap song "Big Poppa" by The Notorious B.I.G. released in 1994, showed the players appreciated old school music, even if it is only considered "old school" for their age group.
But the song seemed appropriate on a day when they were learning just some of the lessons a game that is more than 100 years old can deliver. The outcome wasn't the one they wanted, an 11-1 loss to Louisville in three and a half innings. The true reward, though, came after the game when the team received the Sportsmanship Award. The team disc jockey didn't have the music ready, but it would have been fitting for the team to sing along to DJ Khaled's "All I Do is Win" as it left Propst Park. The trophy was a tangible reward for a weekend of hard work. The other lessons they learned will stay with them as the move up the ladder and set the example for young sluggers.
Adam Minichino is sports editor of The Dispatch. Contact him at: [email protected]
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.