It is a warm summer evening and Connecticut’s newest sports team, the Greenwich Lightning, has taken over the baseball field behind the North Mianus School in Greenwich’s Riverside community for its Monday practice.
Coach Tom Beasley is at home plate, tossing baseballs skyward with his left hand and whacking them to his players with the bat in his right hand while shouting out scenarios that he wants to see completed.
“Runner on first, one out,” he yells. Whack. The ball goes straight to the third baseman, who pivots and shoots it to his second baseman, who steps on his base before firing it to the first baseman.
“Runners on first and second, one out,” cries the coach. Whack. The ball takes a lazy arc right into the shortstop’s mitt, who tags the invisible runner trying to make it to third. Again, the second baseman gets the ball, steps on the base and sends it flying to the first baseman.
Beasley then sends out the ball without a scenario. It is bunt — and a rather puny one at that — but it catches the first baseman off guard. “Ya gotta be chargin’, kid,” admonishes the coach. “Ya gotta be chargin.’”
No coach ever believes that his players have secured perfection, so he calls for a quick display of push-ups. “Gimme 10,” he commands and the Lightning players obey, still wearing their baseball mitts as they pump out a rapid succession of push-ups.
If the Greenwich Lightning doesn’t bring an immediate snap of recognition, then you’re not following this year’s Greater Hudson Valley Baseball League, where the team is in its inaugural season in the 10U division. Yes, 10U as in 10 years old and under — this is Little League. But something different is going on with this team.
Of course, the casual optimist would look at the Lightning members at their practice and happily imagine that the more determined players could become Major League Baseball icons a dozen years from now. But the true lover of the sport will watch the Lightning and see the glory of baseball’s past alive again: The humility of Gehrig, the solemnity of DiMaggio and the stoic resolve of Greenberg and Robinson are embodied in the young players, who take their collaborative effort seriously. The cocky posturing that pollutes much of today’s professional sports is mercifully absent here. The players are so focused on their combined endeavor that they offer a striking sense of maturity that is far beyond their youth.
“We speak a lot as coaches,” says Tom McGrath, who is among the members of the team’s coaching squad — a group of local business professionals who ask us to keep the focus on their young athletes rather than on their work off the field. “We meet with the kids about the main themes we want to get across. For example, in the wintertime we had indoor workouts at the Greenwich Boys and Girls Club twice a week, just to keep the kids sharp on their fielding. One thing we stressed is how to carry yourself, body language-wise. We stressed what poor body language looks like and how not to fall apart on the field. And the kids, even at 10, seem to get it. There is a certain way you should carry yourself. If you are a good ballplayer and you make an error, don’t beat yourself up about it.”
“This year, we’ve had a couple of instances where the kids have picked up on it with other teams, where they saw bad body language essentially corrupt a team,” adds Beasley. “It really resonated with them. They want to learn and be better, and we keep telling them, ‘This is how you’re going to get better.’ They respect what we say and they’ve done a good job. We’re really proud of them.”
The sense of pride is absorbed. Tripp Beasley, the coach’s son, is shown no favoritism. When asked what position he plays, he shrugs and responds, “Whatever the coach tells me.” And he reaffirms the sense of camaraderie of the experience, adding, “I like playing the game and working with friends to play the sport that I love.”
Tripp’s teammate, Matthew Buckingham, alternates between shortstop and second base, but is steady in his appreciation of being part of the Lightning. “I like how we have teamwork,” he says. “People can be all sizes to play. Pretty much anybody can play.”
Of course, having a team based in Greenwich has its advantages — with the most obvious being the shiny new bus featuring the Greenwich Lightning logo. Beasley sheepishly acknowledges that it is “probably not typical” for a Little League team to have this type of personalized transportation, and he is quick to point out it was the result of fundraising and sponsorship by local supporters. “The local sign guy did it for a fraction of the cost,” he adds, referring to the team logo on the bus.
Yet there is nothing for the coach to be uncomfortable about, as the bus also serves as a vehicle to build the team’s character. “There’s an old adage that the team that travels together wins together,” Beasley observes. “So we try to bring the kids together, rather than playing with their siblings in the back of a car. They’re actually talking about baseball. We had a practice last weekend and it got rained out. We had no place to go, so they jumped on the bus. We see it as a retreat where they can sit down and think about what they’re going to do when they get on the field.”
The smart money should be on the Greenwich Lightning, both in their pursuit of baseball victories and in the bright futures that the young stars-in-training have before them.
For more, visit greenwichlightning.com.