The Wudder Summer Sandlot Special: Young Bambino in "Little League, Big Ego"
Chapter One: Hot Boy In A Corner
It was sometime in early July amidst another hot-and-humid, sweat-soaked South Jersey summer when Young Bambino set the wheels in motion to become the central participant involved in the first trade in the history of Little League Baseball.
Hempfield, NJ had been hotter than a four-alarm blaze all week.
Maybe one or at most two steps above going to Hell wearing Gasoline Drawers.
This heat was particularly stifling if you happened to be wearing nylon/acrylic baseball pants, high tube socks with stirrups over those and also needed to wear a t-shirt underneath your uniform top in order to prevent chafing from the Little League Baseball uniform’s cheap, unforgiving and coarse material.
For most folks this heat tends to act like a stuffy sedative of sorts.
It was hard to get too fired up about anything when even the most string-bean-shaped kids were sweating profusely just by sitting down for a minute outside.
But sitting down was where all the trouble started for Young Bambino.
Sitting down basking in sweat generated by summer's humidity rather than his own activity set his very soul aflame with fever-blistered, bursting indignation.
Sitting Down was what led to a young man deciding one especially hot day to Stand Up.
Chapter Two: Put Me In Coach
Coach Mike Scagnetti Sr. could have seen it coming if he’d simply examined the state of things a little bit closer or did a little less directing and a little more listening.
But why should he?
This was, after all, only Little League Baseball and his main objectives were (unless you were one of those psychotic Little League dads) teaching the game and having fun.
For Young Bam, much fun had been had the prior season while playing for the funeral-home-sponsored team Fetch, Evers & Lame.
In what had been his rookie season debut now playing up on the good field in the Little League version of the Big Leagues, he had started every game at second base while also cashing in on a (by 1989 broke young boy standards) monstrous five-dollar bet with his good buddy Ray Ghost about getting through an entire season without striking out once.
Ray had accused him of lying and declared his intentions of welching on the bet since he could not accept Bam at his word.
Bam himself even worried that he might be lying, since he'd been too scared to check on what the official box score ruling was in that game his foul-tip/potential-third-strike flicked back into the catcher’s glove, who then trapped it while fumbling the ball towards the ground before tagging him with it in the batter’s box just to make sure he couldn’t run it out.
But when Coach Tex Kangol (Scagnetti was then Tex’s assistant on Wretch, Evers & Lame the prior season) produced his seasonal score book tallying up each of his players' season stats with a goose egg in the K column while in the presence of Ray and Ray Senior, Ray had to relent.
Soon the cash was relinquished and after a very short while longer it was spent.
Things were setting up nicely for a follow-up season to remember.
And it would be…. just not for the reasons anyone involved would have thought.
It wasn’t clear when the idea of moving his second-year-vet-second-bagger out of the position he had been firmly entrenched in pretty much wire to wire during the summer of 1988 and into some newfangled outfield rotation began.
The experiment seemed to have been bandied about during the preseason in an effort to get every player on the team some more time on the field.
Which was fine, YB figured……at least until it started cutting into his own time.
And not just time……moving him out of his chosen position.
Who did Coach Scagnetti think he was?!?
What did he know that Coach Kangol had managed to miss all last season?!?
The grousing started first to a few friends not on the team, then out loud on the bench and finally had begun to build to a dull roar by the time he approached Scagnetti man-to-man (or should we say little-man-to-grown-big-man) with what he considered this absolute last-resort humdinger:
“Coach, I’ve given this a lot of thought, and I’ve decided I want to be traded”
*Scagnetti pauses for a moment to process this statement, then proceeds to start laughing hard with the type of raspy laugh only a middle-aged man who might occasionally be caught choking down a Newport 100 before or after practice would be able to muster*
“Oh is that right, Bam?!? You wanna be TRADED?!?”
*more mentholated guffaw, shouting now to practice pitcher/batting coach, Big Bill Willbrickington*
“HEY BILL…….DID YOU HEAR THE NEWS?!? BAM WANTS TO BE *TRADED*!”
*Big Bill giving the smiling I-don’t-really-know-WTF-he’s-shouting-about-to-me-but-I’m-just-gonna-play-it-off-and-keep-tossing-this-batting-practice-I'm-running nod*
*A few beats of phlegmy laughter later, Scagnetti returns his gaze to Young Bambino who by now is beginning to suspect that his coach is not taking this request very seriously*
“Sure Bam, I’ll TRADE YA…..I’ll trade ya for TIMMY BOOM! How’s that?!?”
*Scagnetti is now cracking himself up to the point of coughing up a lung*
Young Bambino was considerably far less amused.
Not only were his concerns not being taken seriously but he had invoked the name of Tim Boom, the ace Little League lefthander who tossed 75 MPH+ back when they were still playing with a mound 45 feet away so it was really more like 90+ with movement and generally pinpoint accuracy. Timmy Boom for the past three levels of Little League had led his league in strikeouts, wins and ERA. But in addition to that he was also one of Bam’s better friends at the time so it stung a little extra deep because the clear message his coach had through his hacks had delivered was this:
“Sure Little Man, you’ll get that trade……. on the day another coach agrees to a blind heist of a deal that helps us acquire your good friend that oh by the way is far better at this sport than you.”
Alright, Scagnetti…Bam thought…now you are really starting to cross the line.
But he chilled at that moment to concentrate on shagging grounders.
Let all the dust of this indignity settle for the moment rather than make any further scene in front of the team. Who knows maybe if he keeps getting in front of every hard-hit, short-hopping ground ball that comes his way and getting off more of these clean throws to first base without any Steve Sax-like short-arming then the Coach may remember who was a starting middle infielder the prior season while he was still only a backup coach.
The tension (in Young Bamb’s brain quite real but any thinking on the part of Coach Scagnetti was likely only imagined by the boy) persisted throughout that week of practice, then continued into the games taking place during this heat wave but there’d been some quelling of this bubbling cauldron of a storm earlier that week when Bam found himself back in the lineup starting at second base on the big field.
Maybe the tide was turning.
Maybe this guy was coming to his senses.
He certainly hoped so.
Because now despite the high degree heat and humidity, girls were starting to come out to some of these games in droves, mostly as an excuse to show off their new summer clothes.
And few looked better in them that summer of '89 than Marilyn McShamminy.
The sting of Marilyn (in between blowing bubbles, contorting her gum in circular twists with her tongue, then making it crack loudly before blowing it back up into a bubble again) leaning up against the edge of the dugout fence while Bambino slid down an empty dugout bench to speak with her during a game in June that he was not currently involved in while she said “This is so boring…..why aren’t you playing?” still rang in his head on repeat like a fully clenched fist constantly crashing into it.
Chapter 3: Never Forget, Maybe Forgive?
Scagnetti was, after all, just doing his job…he was trying to be fair.
But maybe now he realizes that it’s winning time and time to play your best hand.
Then came that fateful, brutally hot day when Fetch, Evers and Lame Funeral Home's sponsored Little League team was to play their divisional rival Jaycee’s squad for what at that point was a make-up game from a May rain delay between two middling squads looking to break out of the middle of the pack to give themselves a chance to reach the playoffs by grabbing the fourth and final seed in the league.
Due to it being a make-up game, there was already a game scheduled on the big diamond at Abner Field. This meant the Little League was now reduced to playing down the hill on one of the old practice fields where the infield was nothing but sand, stray rocks, a steady stream of pebbles and also the scattered remnants of a few broken glass from the beer bottles that the teenage kids presumably were drinking there after dark.
Bambino could only imagine there must be a steady stream of Jennifer-Jason-Leigh/Stacy-in-Fast-Times-type of dugout activity going down at night here as well but that was really just pure speculation coupled with imagination, just his creative-manipulation-of-the-cable-box-while-trying-to-squint-through-the-squiggly-lines-late-night-on-Prism line of thinking.
Back to the bad game on the bad field, things would soon go from bad to worse.
When the starting lineup was announced, Bamb wasn’t playing second base.
In fact, he wasn’t even in left field where Coach Scag had been occasionally platooning him.
He was out of the lineup altogether.
Chapter 4: It Always Ends Badly, Otherwise It Wouldn't End
Sensing the surliness seeping out from his former-starting second-bagger as he damn near stomped back to the dugout, Coach Scag reassured him by saying “Matt, you’ll be in by the third inning, I had to get Danny in at the beginning of the game because he’s getting picked up early for a show his parents are taking his family to in Philly”.
Oh really, Coach Scag?
The kid whose Dad came to the first practice to make sure his rookie son didn’t get a wedgie because “I don’t like this wedgie business and my son doesn’t either” before escorting him to his car now gets to start because he’s got a dinner theater date?!?
Bam sat down in the visitor’s dugout on top of his second-baseman glove, stewing in his own juices which were starting to seep out of his own pores before the game even began.
It was far too hot to feel this heated.
Somewhere around the middle of the second inning, Timmy Boom happened to swing by the lower field, where he tried hard to stifle a laugh at the site of his irate buddy sitting on the bench during a time his team was in the field. His face belied the truth though, as did the Bam’s furrowed brow.
“Dude are you kidding me, now you’re not even playing?”
“Nope……Scag said next inning, bet ya he puts me in left too.”
“Did you tell him you wanted a trade?”
“Yup….” Bam let the short version of the answer linger there without adding further context.
“Well I’m not gonna stand out here in this heat watching you sit, I’m going back to my house to watch ‘Christmas Vacation’ in the air conditioning, still got a couple hours before my mom comes home with dinner, I’ll call you later”
Suddenly Bambino’s young mind was moving a million miles an hour while watching his boy slowly walk away to his home two short blocks from the field, which would be filled with cool air, a VCR with the latest Clark Griswold comedy which had just dropped that week, an empty house plus good snacks…...
*dramatic pause as Timmy turned back around*
Before he could think long enough to change his mind, Bam grabbed his glove, eyed Coach Scag whose back was turned while inside the batting cage area talking to an umpire, then hopped off the pine and followed his friend in a beeline.
Timmy Boom looked at first genuinely puzzled, then a bit shocked but in the end who was he to argue, he knew when it came to Bam there was always the possibility of him doing something a little bit crazy.
By the middle of third when Broadway Danny Nose’s parents pulled up honking the horn of their Lincoln Town Car looking to pick up their son in his still-clean uniform for his evening of culture in lieu of his team game, Coach Scagnetti was calling Young Bambino’s name but he was already sitting inside the chilly coolness of Casa De Boom while cracking up at Cousin Eddie’s arrival.
Coach Scagnetti was asking his guys “where’d Bam go?!?”, now with a sense of urgency especially because with Danny at his dinner, Bambino gone and any other reserve on vacation he was down to eight players that he could put on the field.
“NOT ONE OF YOU GUYS SAW HIM GO ANYWHERE?!?”
*Quietly Shaking Their Heads No In Near Unison*
What did any of his teammates know anyway?
They were out in the field in the midst of a long inning whenever he must have made the move.
Big Bill could have taken the hint since by proxy he was also being questioned here just not put on blast directly but per usual, Big Bill Willbrickton was content to stay quiet while playing dumb, after all it was far easier that way and for a man of his considerable size probably far too hot to do anything else.
Besides, it hadn’t been his turn to watch him.
“Well, we’ve got no choice” Scagnetti told his remaining troops “leave left open but shade over from center, I need someone in right to backup throws to first”.
*his laughs now turning to mumbles as his incomplete team rushed out to fill what it could of the field*
“The kid wants to be traded, fine, he can go play for Lions, DePetrio will take all the kids he can get and he can put up with that bullshit”.
Chapter 5: A New Coach Comes A-Courting
And so the negotiation had begun in Coach Scagnetti’s mind as his runaway player jogged home after the movie to make sure he got himself back from Boom’s in a time conducive to when he would have returned from his baseball game.
Maybe about an hour later after dinner had finished, the phone at the house rang.
Not knowing who might be calling or what might be said, Bam raced to the kitchen receiver and proved to be the quickest on the draw.
“Hi, is this Bam?”
“Yeah, who’s calling?”
“This is Derek DePetrio, I coach Lions. We hear you’re looking to change teams.”
*doing a mental scroll of Lions team realizing that he had several good friends on the squad and that they had a roster that could certainly use some help*
“Yeah, Coach Scagnetti and I have discussed it. How did you know?”
“I just got off the phone with your coach and we have a deal that we can work out. And before you decide Bam, I just wanted to let you know that if you come to Lions you will start, you will play infield, you will bat in the top four and you will play all six innings”.
The level of acquiescence coming in the door made Bam feel like he might as well throw in a moped request for transport but instead he kept it simple:
“Glad to hear it, we have a game two days from now”
“Fetch, Evers & Lame”
Chapter 6: Don't Go Mistaking Paradise, For That Home Across The Road
It may have been going to watch a movie that sparked the first known in-season player transfer move in Little League history but for Young Bambino, perhaps he was due for some comeuppance since his first game in a Lions uniform against his old team did not end like any of the baseball movies he had seen as his Field of Dreams quickly became a nightmare.
Bam misplayed a fly ball in shallow left that he had ran out from shortstop (Coach DePetrio either overcompensating or being given bad information) to field and waving off the fast closing outfielder which resulted in a near collision and an unearned run that then loaded the bases for a big inning.
He also while somehow now batting clean-up (despite not homering since the Summer of ’87, before the move to a regulation-sized field) went 0-for-3 and adding further insult to injury also struck out once.
An inauspicious beginning for sure.
But by the time Lions season ended outside of the playoffs a couple weeks later and Wretch-Severs nabbed the last seed into the postseason and carried that moment to their first championship, the ending then officially became ignominious.
Bam didn’t see any of it, he made sure to lay low somewhere chilly during that weekend’s championship game but still from everywhere he turned he could hear Ole Scag hacking and laughing, he even pictured him sucking down a Newport 100 right there on the field like a victory cigar in the fashion Red Auerbach had in the late stages of a title-clinching contest while coaching the Boston Celtics as they were winning all those titles in the 1960’s.
No one was ever able to say definitively what the terms of the deal that the two coaches had made.
Some said there was a pick-swap involved in the upcoming year’s draft.
Others said it was for a chance to switch out an inconvenient or conflicting date in the coach's schedule.
It could have been a fungo bat or a bucket of baseballs for all Bam knew, in retrospect he still felt like even at that price he hadn't really lived up to his end of the bargain given the outcome.
A yellow Snow Cone was his buddy Ray Ghost's personal favorite wise-ass answer.
Ah well, what can you say?
This game is a humbling one to play.
A little less than two years after that sweltering summer of 1989 concluded, Timmy Boom was already the top pitcher in Hempfield as a high school freshman.
Young Bambino had since moved on from being youth baseball’s Curt Flood to instead now running track.
Because he found out the hard way that once Little League becomes business, there’s no turning back.