For young athletes of both the enthusiast and reluctant varieties, playing outfield in Little League is a singular experience. Kids who want the ball and kids who desperately don’t both grapple with the strain of existing in a pregnant moment. They know that anything could happen, but they also know that it likely won’t. For some, this is an invitation to daydream about foreign lands and local fast food franchises. For others, this is an invitation to daydream about fly balls and ensuing acts of golden gloved heroism.
The outfield can be a place for kids to learn about baseball, but it is inevitably a place where kids wind up learning about themselves. Eager to understand these lessons, Fatherly asked 18 former Little-League outfielders what went through their heads when they were relegated to right field. Their answers were Indicatively diverse. The common theme? Failed acts of introspection.
“I associated a baseball falling from the sky to a heat-sensing missile until the latter half of high school, so the outfield filled me with despair during my Little League era. Alas, I was never one to back down from a challenge. When that baseball was heading my way, I would almost certainly miss the catch, wait for the bounce, and hope that the runner wasn’t nearing home base. My highlight reel consisted of the jokes I’d make with my friends instead of anything involving a glove.” – Jay, New York
“During my tenure, everybody was chewing Bazooka Joe Bubble Gum. The kids would load up on handfuls and handfuls of gum (it was 10 cents a piece), shove bunches of the stuff in their mouths and then discard of the wrappers all over the field. But here’s the thing: The wrappers were the best part. Each piece of gum included an original Bazooka Joe cartoon. I spend most of my time in the outfield combing the grass for Bazooka Joe comics. While I waited for the interminable innings to end, I’d stare at the comics and dream about creating my own famous comic strip someday. My best friend hit a ball over my head while I was reading a Bazooka Joe comic.” – Jared, Pennsylvania
“We were lucky to have two baseball fields across the street from our house, so we played a lot of pickup games growing up. I loved the outfield. In particular, I always dreamed about throwing a runner out at home plate like my hero, Andre Dawson. So I was pretty locked in, especially with runners on base. I don’t recall having much success, but that didn’t stop me from overthrowing the cutoff man every time.” – Daniel, Virginia
“My time in the outfield was spent hunting dandelions, as if they were solely responsible for me being out there. Of course I knew they weren’t to blame for me being a head shorter than every other kid on the team, or not knowing which hand my glove went on. Regardless, I indiscriminately kicked the head off every dandelion I came across. I liked to think I was doing the groundskeeper a service, as there was a pristine 10-foot-wide patch of weedless grass out in right field.” – Brendan, Quebec
“I resented my occasional shifts in the outfield. I saw myself as a shortstop and a pitcher. I was quick, coordinated, and spoiled — dad was the coach. I distinctly recall standing in left field and praying for the ball to be hit towards me. I never struggled with fly balls and I loved the feeling of tracking a ball down. That said, I was also a nature kid and easily distracted by the bees dry humping the wild clover. I watched them with wary enthusiasm, reassuring myself that there was an epipen in the front pocket of my little backpack.” – Andrew, New York
“During a 13-year-old All-Star tournament, the center fielder for the opposing team went back deep on a fly ball, turned at the last moment, and took a metal fence to the face. Coaches for both teams raced to the outfield and walked the kid off the field, blood dripping from his mouth. Our coach came back to the dugout to tell us he’d be fine, but the player’s teeth might be lodged somewhere in the fence. In the later innings, I was rotated out from second base out into left field and spent the rest of the game trying to find his central incisor among the gravel and dandelions. If I couldn’t get the game-winning hit, at least I could be the hero who found his tooth.” – Chris, New Jersey
“I played my entire little league career in the outfield because what I lacked in agility, accuracy, and defense-oriented athleticism I more than made up for with my ability to daydream through entire innings. The subjects that flitted in and out of my mind during my time on the field included ‘I hope they don’t hit it this way’; ‘why doesn’t the cutoff man have a cutoff man?’; ‘I think I hate baseball.'” – Jeff, New York
“Pizza Hut. I was thinking about Pizza Hut. I played right field all the time, and there was this Pizza Hut commercial (must’ve been like 1991-ish) about a little kid (he looked like me) in right field. It played before the VHS of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze. The kid was sort of not paying attention, and then he hears the crack of the bat, and the ball sails his way. He closes his eyes, and he catches it and wins the game. Then they all go to Pizza Hut to celebrate. I could sing the song with my eyes closed today.” – Matt, Ohio
“My dad coached the team; he was a far better coach than I was a player. I don’t think I managed a single hit in all my years of Little League play. I was crap at catching balls and middling at throwing balls. I hung out deep in the outfield and hoped against hope that no one would hit a ball anywhere in my direction. In my last year or so, someone started a semi-formal league where the quality of play wasn’t as high: essentially, a minor league little league. In there, I was actually pretty good. I remember the feeling of hitting a proper double, and actually being somewhat competent at the sport for an instant. It was a good feeling.” – Toby, New York
“Outfield was home. I had always asked to play second base, the shortstop for kids who didn’t have the rocket arm to play the 6. But, at some point, left field had become much more comfortable. In my mind I was Rickey Henderson, whipping my glove around my back after every catch, and only occasionally flinging it across the outfield, losing the ball and scoring runs for the opposing team. At least, that was my move when I wasn’t timing my running speed to allow for a dive and catch. In retrospect, I likely looked incredibly clumsy. But in my mind, I was headed for the bigs. The outfield was a place to dream.” – Andy, Ohio
“It was assumed in my family that I would also be a natural at baseball; both of my older brothers and father had excelled at the sport. Imagine their surprise when I struggled to catch a simple fly ball and cringed whenever a pitch came near me. So, I spent several years sitting in the middle of clover daydreaming about Dungeons & Dragons games and the next book I would read, only pausing for the rude interruptions of a ball coming my way.” – Hudson, Colorado
“Standing in right field where my coach routinely relegated the kids with the least game, something that was not lost on me as my banjo-playing Grade 4 teacher used to serenade us with that heartfelt baseball ballad about the daydream prone position which Peter Paul and Mary would turn into a hit. As in the song, I did my fair share of staring at the grass and watching the dandelions grow but I also used to pass the time trying to create positive juju with some homespun ballpark voodoo. I’d pretend the index finger on my right hand was the hitter who’d smack a pop fly right at my glove. Every once in a blue moon, it’d even work.” – Mike, South Carolina
“My Little League career can be summed up in one single piece of advice from my coach, who advised me to ‘Just go up there and try to get a walk,’ which was weird, since the coach was my dad. As such, my time in the outfield was primarily spent updating teammates on the current number of outs, as though that information was solely available from the gangly twig walking around right field. Baseball would never be my future, but I tried it, and learned that while faith is worthy and dedication crucial, sometimes you just suck at something, and that it’s OK to hang up the stirrups and go try something else.”- Jeff, Indiana
“Fuck, don’t hit the ball to me. FUCK! DON’T HIT THE BALL TO ME!!!!” – Corey, California
“I joined a park district league when I was seven because my best friends did. We were assigned to different teams, so I spent most of my time bored in the outfield, unsure what was going on, ignorant of the basic mechanics of the game, and trying out curse words on other kids. I was as popular as you might imagine.” – Matt, Wisconsin
“One sunny summer afternoon, some proto-pro-baller slammed one off the tee that landed close enough to me that there was no way I could ignore it. Gobsmacked, I stared at the ball for a while, unsure of what to do with it. At some point I picked up the ball and looked around, trying to figure out if I was some place I was supposed to put it. Thankfully, one of my teammates hustled over to help, but it soon became clear he was as clueless about the situation as I was, and was just there to see what I was up to. Finally, we decided the best thing to do was to begin moseying back towards the baseball diamond, handing the ball back and forth like a hot potato, while activities far beyond our comprehension transpired about the bases. Eventually, someone had the wherewithal to retrieve the ball from us and did whatever it was you were supposed to do with the thing. I remember looking up into the bleachers and seeing my parents howling with the rest of the crowd. It took me a long time to figure out what they were laughing at.” – Joel, Colorado
“I recall getting lost in blades of grass. Literally. I’d sit in the outfield and play with a single blade of grass, imagining epic battles fought ages ago with swords and spears. Sometimes a coach would yell at me, but more often than not he’d grudgingly let me sit and daydream. When a pop fly came my way, I would stand up. Still, I don’t recall ever actually catching a ball.” – Ben, New York
“On a rainy, hot humid Cleveland night, I was stuck out in right field. I’m pretty sure I had just downed every drop of lemon-lime Gatorade I brought to the field, and the inning just kept going, and going and going. I’m thinking ‘can’t my pitcher just throw a damn strike? I’ve got to get back to the dugout and pee.’ But as it happens in youth baseball, strikes are few and far between. And there I was, stranded in the tall grass on a hot, drizzly night. I just couldn’t hold it anymore. Let’s just say it was a good thing it was raining, because no one noticed that my baseball pants were a little wetter than they should have been when I got back to the bench.” – Dan, Virginia
Interested in Little League? Check out Fatherly’s complete guide to all things Little League and youth baseball related. We’ve got great coaching tips, funny stories about life in the dugout, and features about the past and future of one of America’s great athletic institutions.