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A dusty diamond is the stage for these stars of summer
At 10 years old, they stand at that blissful intersection of childhood and adolescence, when nothing matters beyond the next inning.

By Dugan Arnett, Globe Staff
August 12, 2018

WAKEFIELD — Here they come, bounding out of their parents’ cars and SUVs, their bags heavy with equipment, cheeks packed with bubble gum, belts fastened, caps on, last names screen-printed across the backs of their tiny jerseys, just like the big-leaguers: Collins, Tucker, McDermott, Bligh . . .

A little army in red.

They are the Wakefield Warriors, but they could be any of thousands of teams of Little Leaguers, playing on any of the dusty ball fields where kids flock on summer nights to chase fly balls and spit sunflower seeds and learn the profoundities of the sacrifice bunt.

At 10 years old, they stand at that blissful intersection of childhood and adolescence, when nothing matters beyond the next inning, the next at-bat, and life’s biggest concerns seem to revolve around, say, how to handle the disappointment of being drafted by the despised New York Yankees, rather than the hometown Red Sox.

“I would play for the Yankees,” Matt McDonald, the Warriors’ horse of a first baseman, said earnestly. “But then I would ask for a trade after the first year.”

The kids head for the dugout and Chuck Reeves, the team’s jovial 54-year-old coach. As a kid, Reeves spent his summers on Little League fields just like this one. He would pedal his bike 2 miles to games, his father too busy working two jobs to drive him; on weekends, Reeves passed his days at the park with a football or basketball or hockey stick, stopping only when the sun disappeared over the horizon and there was no choice but to head home. He counts those memories as some of his best.

Kids’ baseball has changed some since those days, what with pitch counts and $300 bats they outgrow in a year. But for the most part, it is the same game as it always was. Dusty cleats and grass-stained knees and concession stand sodas, coaches in sunglasses, bellowing out the same chatter as ever: “Keep your head in there”; “Look alive”; “Good eye, kid.”

“Grab your gloves and warm up,” Reeves said, as the team — all boys— scampered in and dropped their bags.

It was a sunny Sunday morning, summer having just crossed the threshold into July, and even before they took the field for their first official game of the season, it was clear the Warriors boasted formidable talent.

There was J.P. Casey, the catcher, whose heightened social status among teammates seemed to have as much to do with his aunt’s job working for Ben and Jerry’s as it did with his own considerable prowess at the plate. There was Will Stanley, the redheaded pitcher who didn’t say much but sure could fire a baseball.

And little Josh Hubert, the shortest kid on the team by a head, whose small stature and perpetually untied shoelaces belied an impressive awareness in the outfield; a few weeks later, he would turn in one of the summer’s more memorable moments when he chased down a last-inning flyball in right field and fired to first for a double play, securing a victory and earning the game ball.

Dylan McDermott watched from the dugout as the Wakefield Warrios took on Reading.

Dylan McDermott watched from the dugout as the Wakefield Warrios took on Reading.
Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Today, the Warriors find themselves matched up against a team from North Reading, and it wasn’t much of a contest. When it was over, they won, 13-0. As Nik Dhingra, a gangly outfielder, put it: “We’re beast mode!”

The Warriors won their next game, too, 17-0. And the one after that.

On the field, they were a well-oiled machine — or as well-oiled as a group of 10-year-old boys who sometimes forget to tie their shoes can be. They (usually) hit the cut-off man. They (mostly) backed up third base.

They’d jumped to such sizeable leads in a couple of early games that Reeves quietly instructed them to take their foot off the gas.

“Sportsmanship,” he said afterward, in the postgame huddle in left field. “We could be on the other end very easily.”

They absorbed the message and resumed their eternal July, viewed from the field or the dugout, where they sang and chanted and pontificated on everything from the best kind of cleats (“Nike Mike Trouts; everyone has ‘em”), to the game’s current stylings (“People who wear hats under their helmet don’t like to mess up their hair, and it usually means they’re wicked bad”), to the unwritten hierarchy of the Little League lineup card (“Shortstop means you’re probably the best player on the team”).

The coolest thing you could do on a baseball field?

“Inside-the-park grand slam!” said one.

“No, bottom of the 9th, two outs, dinger!” chirped another.

“No, you slide around the catcher!” said a third.

Once, they briefly discussed a girl in their grade named Cassidy, but only briefly, because right about then someone got to talking about how cotton candy-flavored bubble gum is the best, which got someone else to talking about how sour apple was actually the best. And so on.
And that’s how it would go, until Reeves sauntered over with a reminder to pay attention to the game and they briefly turned their focus back to the field before another pressing matter arose, such as who could jump high enough to touch the roof of the dugout.

After the games, in an effort to keep the good times rolling, they’d gather their things and head to the parking lot, where they begged and bartered with parents to sign off on sleepovers, like a dozen little sunburned salesmen: My mom said it’s OK with her if it’s OK with your mom.

The hard part comes on days when there is no game on the schedule — or, God forbid, a rainout — and they’d pass the time tapping away on video game controllers, stuck counting down the time until the sun reappeared and they were back on the field.

“In the morning yesterday, I was like, ‘When’s the next baseball game?’ ” said Aidan Bligh, the shortstop. “Tomorrow? I can’t wait that long!”

It didn’t hurt, of course, that as the summer progressed, the team kept winning — usually by sizeable margins.

They beat the Wilmington Wildcats, 23-1.

They beat the Reading Rockets, 22-11, in a game that included an impromptu dugout dance party, the little Warriors bouncing and jumping like there was nowhere else in the world they’d rather be — and, of course, there wasn’t.

Ethan Faulkner of the Wakefield Warriors threw the last pitch of the game against North Reading.

Ethan Faulkner of the Wakefield Warriors threw the last pitch of the game against North Reading.
Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff


Occasionally, an opposing team represented enough of a threat to give them pause. One weeknight, at their home field in Wakefield, there was nervous pregame chatter. Their opponents had lost just a single game all summer, someone mentioned, and they watched quietly as the opposing pitcher took the mound.

“He throws pretty fast,” allowed Cole Reeves, the coach’s son and team’s third baseman. “But right down the middle.”

Their concerns proved short-lived. The Warriors’ own pitcher — Stanley, the quiet redhead — breezed through the opposing lineup, and the Warriors bats pinged to life. Before long, they were laughing and slapping each other on the helmet.

With each victory, their confidence grew, as did their sense of destiny. The playoffs were coming. They decided anything short of a tournament championship would be unacceptable and allowed themselves to dream even bigger. Maybe, big Matt McDonald was thinking, a career as a Major League ballplayer wasn’t quite enough. Maybe, he figured, he’d go ahead and play in the NFL, too.

“I want to be like Deion Sanders,” he said, standing in the dugout as the Warriors rolled to another victory. “Play in the Super Bowl and the World Series.”

And then came a Sunday evening in late July, the first game of the playoffs, a weeklong, single-elimination tournament to determine the league champion.

As the undefeated Warriors took the field, they were easy favorites. But from the start, things just didn’t go their way. Their bats, so vicious all summer, suddenly fell silent. Their typically smooth gloves failed them.

Players from North Reading and Wakefield greeted each other after a July 8 game.

Players from North Reading and Wakefield greeted each other after a July 8 game.
Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff


They trailed early, came back to tie, then fell behind again. For awhile, that was the way it went, back and forth. At bat in the bottom of the last inning, the Warriors trailed 7-5.

In the dugout, the players climbed the fence and screamed. They contorted their hats, inside out, into rally caps.

Two Warriors got on base. A home run would win it.

But then: A groundball, a force out at second base, and just like that, the game — the season, the summer — was over.

In the stunned moments that followed, the Warriors shuffled through the postgame handshake line — “Good game . . . Good game . . . Good game” — and trudged slowly out to right field, where they took a knee and wiped tears and listened as Coach Reeves spoke of his pride in them, and how the beauty of baseball is that there’s always next year.

But next year was a lifetime away. Ahead, loomed fifth grade — middle school. Soon enough, they would be shopping for clothes and supplies. Then, homework and school pictures and cafeteria lunches. In a year, they would be slightly different boys, a little more serious, a little less silly — a little further from this moment.

They listened dutifully as Reeves finished, and then they made their way back toward the parking lot and their parents’ cars, where — tears now dry — they began concocting plans for one more sleepover.

Nik Dhingra, center, had a little more attitude in his dance moves than Cole Reeves during a game last month.

Nik Dhingra, center, had a little more attitude in his dance moves than Cole Reeves during a game last month.
Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Josh Hubert walked back to the dugout after a play against Reading on July 24.
Josh Hubert walked back to the dugout after a play against Reading on July 24.
Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

The Wakefield Warriors little league team posed for a photo before their first game of the season.
The Wakefield Warriors little league team posed for a photo before their first game of the season. 
Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

The players and coaches huddled for a team cheer after a game in Reading.
The players and coaches huddled for a team cheer after a game in Reading.
Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff
Dugan Arnett can be reached at dugan.arnett@globe.com 
Follow him on Twitter @duganarnett


by posted 08/12/2018
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