In fact, the outlook was downright gloomy. Dark, even.
They were down 20-0 in the fourth inning of their Little League World Series game against Chinese Taipei. The game was essentially over. Chinese Taipei was scoring at will. Aruba had only been able to connect on a couple of base hits. Game officials were flipping through the pages of the rule book, looking to see if there was a “20-run rule,” since the “10-run rule” — ending the game early if one team is ahead by 10 runs — wouldn’t go into effect until the end of the fourth inning.
See what I mean? Dark.
“This was not what we were expecting,” Aruba coach Luigi Bergen said after the game. “We know we are a good team.”
The coach acknowledged that some of his players were crying in the dugout, frustrated by the futility of what they were experiencing (I know, I know — “there’s no crying in baseball.” But these were 11- and 12-year-old boys. When I was 11, I used to cry every time I struck out. Which means there was a LOT of crying in baseball the way I played it).
So as far as Bergen’s son, Vaughn, was concerned, there was only one thing left to do: break out the “Sponge Bob.”
The “Sponge Bob” is Vaughn’s own very special dance move. It is difficult to describe, but consists of putting his right leg behind his left knee, dipping to the ground while twirling, and popping up and both feet. You sort of have to see it to fully appreciate it. And right there, in the top of the fourth inning of a Little League World Series game, with his team down by an overwhelming 20 runs, Vaughn decided it was time for the world to see it.
“My dad told me to enjoy myself,” Vaughn said after the game. “So I did.”
It took a while for the ESPN announcing team to notice Aruba’s thin, lithe left-fielder dancing in the outfield in between pitches. At first they seemed to think it was just a momentary distraction on the part of the young athlete. But then it became clear he was putting on a show for the fans in Williamsport, Pa., and ESPN spent as much time covering his assorted dance moves as it did covering the play on the field — probably because by that point in the contest, the dancing was infinitely more entertaining.
“This is Little League Baseball!” one of the announcers said, clearly delighted by what he was seeing. “This is what it's all about. He’s trailing 20-0 and he’s dancing. I’m smiling, young man. I’m smiling.”
Vaughn, who was one of the players who had been crying in the dugout just moments earlier, was smiling too. So were his teammates and coaches.
“The dancing thing got everyone smiling,” his father said. And once they started smiling, they relaxed enough to put together a three-run rally in the bottom of the fourth — not enough to win the game or prevent officials from enacting the 10-run rule, but enough to dry the tears and ease the sting of defeat for everyone wearing Aruba blue.
Which is a great lesson for all of us, don’t you think? We’re all going to experience defeat in our lives, in one way or another. A failed relationship. A fumbled professional opportunity. An embarrassing faux pas in front of . . . well . . . everybody. Occasionally those defeats will be painful enough to drive us to tears. And while there’s nothing wrong with that, there’s something to be said for looking defeat squarely in the eye — and smiling.
With or without the “Sponge Bob.”