Remembering the greatest baseball team I ever played with
Xs and Arrows
June 25, 2022
I received a photo the other day from a friend of mine who was cleaning out a few old boxes and came across a relic from our younger days. It was a photo of a few of us that were part of my favorite baseball team I ever had the pleasure of playing on.
Long before the days of "elite" and "travel ball" teams was the institution that was Little League, but this was no ordinary Little League team. This was a specific league created for us older kids looking for a way to continue the game several years after our normal Little League eligibility expired.
The year was 1998 and several high school students were frustrated with the leadership, or frankly, lack thereof with the Tehachapi High School varsity baseball program. Let's just say that the majority of the varsity-eligible players did not see eye to eye with the head coach. So, fed up with his empty promises and lack of accountability and delivery we took matters into our own hands. With most of us being children of involved parents, several dads were able to successfully petition Little League to open a 16-18 year old league in the Spring of '98.
This league consisted of four teams playing two days a week for a couple of months. We were a misfit league, full of once promising players that, for our own individual reasons, were fed up with the system, and elected to play for the love of the game – and not for someone else's professional gain. We consisted of the Phillies, Yankees, Dodgers and one other team that escapes my mind. I wore Dodger blue that season on a team skippered by Don Napier and consisting of some of my former high school teammates and a few buddies from the neighborhood.
For about eight weeks that late spring we were kids again, since we had played the game for so long the coaches were there mostly just to make lineups and provide the legally-required adult supervision. There was not much instruction to be had, especially since exactly zero of us were headed to play baseball at the next level. Positions? We got to play wherever we wanted for the most part, the head coach had the task of keeping track of all the various requests when it was time to fill out a lineup card. Having spent much of my career as a catcher, I was tired of being a backstop and for once got to play third base for the majority of that season, and I loved every minute of it.
The league was so casual that my team actually forfeited the championship game because all of us players had better things to do. With school being out most of us were well into our final summer prior to college and could not be bothered with a meaningless baseball championship. I was actually on a houseboat working at a summer camp and, if my mind serves me correctly, the rest of the guys that would have made up the required nine were on a surfing trip. The priorities of a teenager.
I honestly could not think of a more fitting end to that team, or that league for that matter – it was poetic in its own way. That photo reminded me of a few guys I haven't thought about for several years and a few that are still kicking around Tehachapi. A couple were some of the best players I had the pleasure of suiting up with but they had been ruined by the high school system. One pitcher and I were subjected to so many ridiculous drills in the varsity bullpen that we spent more time trying to contain laughter than develop mechanics from whatever pieces of equipment or building materials the pitching coach found laying around – this league was a reprieve from the organized baseball that had a hand in ruining us all.
It was a great season. Short, sweet and memorable in its own unique way. We were just teenagers seeking a way to play the game we still loved, and that Tehachapi Spring we found it on the diamonds of our childhood-loosely supervised by adults were understood how to be a part of the solution and did not want to add to the problem. Baseball is a complex game, great teams like that remind me of how truly simple it should be.
Corey Costelloe has covered NCAA, professional and local sports for more than 20 years as a reporter and broadcaster. He advocates for the value of athletic competition and serves as the Vice President of the Tehachapi Warriors Booster Club. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.