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One of the most fascinating words in any language is "command." Give a man some authority, put him in charge of almost anything and you play a small part in the miracle of creation; or, at any rate, rearrangement. Command does for a man's character what some of the childhood diseases do for his skin: it brings out hitherto unsuspected spots.
Last spring and summer, for example, I was for a couple of months an interested but nonparticipating observer of the Little League baseball activities in my town. My oldest son Jeff, then just turned eight, was too young to play on one of the major teams. He was assigned, therefore, to the Owls, one of the teams in our local minor or Cap League, so called because the exchequer, which does not have enough money to buy complete uniforms for these younger boys, does have enough to provide them with colorful baseball caps.
During the first nine-tenths of the Cap League season my involvement in its activities was purely emotional, but highly educational.
I learned, when Jeff missed a pop fly, that the funny sounds the error aroused in my chest were inaudible to the other spectators. I learned, when Jeff neatly smothered a sizzling grounder and pegged it down to first base in plenty of time for the runner to be called out, that the runner's father, standing beside me, was hoping I could not hear the funny sounds in his chest. I learned that fashioning a baseball team out of twenty-five small boys, every single one of whom wants to pitch and labors under the delusion that he can, is a task beside which Hercules' celebrated tidying job on the Augean stables pales into insignificance. I learned to respect the man who accomplished this task, a mechanical engineer named Lou McEwen who served without pay as manager of the Owls because he loves baseball and boys.
MOTHER OF THE OWLS
And I learned, through the person of Mrs. Walter Noonan, an approach to baseball that is certainly original, conceivably revolutionary and clearly calculated to drive managers to drink or worse. Mrs. Walter Noonan, a small, frail, very pretty and painfully shy young woman who looked as though she had spent most of her life serving unobtrusively on social welfare committees, was the mother of three small but energetic boys. Edwin, Tom and Sam Noonan were on the Owls squad, and their mother came to all the Owls games.
Mrs. Noonan, I soon learned, did not come, like the other parents, to cheer the Owls to victory. Nor did she come to heckle their opponents to defeat. Mrs. Noonan came to see to it that every boy on the team, including her own three, got a chance to play in every game. And she managed, in spite of her frailty and shyness, to see to it with a single-mindedness that would have earned the approval of Genghis Khan.
All it earned from Mr. McEwen was a groan of despair.
Mr. McEwen's primary interest was not in seeing to it that every boy on his squad had a turn at bat and in the field during every game. Mr. McEwen's primary interest was in winning. He was all for making sure that every boy had a chance to play. But not at the expense of losing games. The good players, he felt, should play more often, and stay in the game longer, than the poor players. Mr. McEwen's explanations fell on Mrs. Noonan's extremely pretty but apparently deaf ears.
I can't say how it was on the other teams in the league. I can say that on the Owls, thanks to Mrs. Noonan's crusading missionary zeal, every member of the squad played some part, however fragmentary, of every game. As a result, there were times when I thought I was watching not a baseball game but a relay race.