It's a magical time of year. No, not March Madness. It's time for some kids' baseball!

Hard to believe, but that's my Grandson Ayden up there behind the plate. He and his teammates had their season opener over the weekend and he got to strap on the catcher's gear and get to work. Work? No, there was nothing 'work' about it. Did his team win? It doesn't matter (they did). Did he get a hit? It doesn't matter (he went 3-3 with 4 RBI). Awright...sometimes you can't keep a Grandpa's pride down.

Whenever my Grandkids start a new baseball year it brings me back. I mean, back. back, back. Back over a half-century to a small rural town in southwest Minnesota...

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We were a ragtag bunch. I can see that now. See it clear as day. But we sure didn't see ourselves that way back then.

We were, oh, ten and eleven and twelve years old back then, a Little League baseball team. Or maybe, if truth be told, we were a little Little League baseball team. We didn't think about any Central Plains regional baseball tournament or traveling long distances in the summertime or going to any Little League World Series in some faraway place called Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

Nope. We were much more concerned about places with names like Woodstock, Chandler, Lake Wilson, and Edgerton.

You see, we were the Little league team from Leota, Minnesota.

Our little close-knit community of, I dunno, 250 folks or so wasn't even incorporated. Still isn't. What we did have was two very important things: 1) A great baseball field, and 2) An incredible love for the game of baseball. And so we played.

And for one magical year, we won. And won. And then we won some more.

We beat Lake Wilson. We beat Chandler. We beat Woodstock twice. Heck, we even beat our big-city rival, Edgerton! (Yes, I said big city, heck, they had about a thousand people!) And then it happened. We had to play a giant.

Slayton, Minnesota. A team we had never ever played before. A team we had never ever even seen before! Slayton, the county seat of Murray County Minnesota. A city that had, well, probably two or three times as many people as Edgerton. Geez, they even had a hospital. I know that for a fact, I was born there! So what in the world were we doing playing these guys??

We won.

Nope, if I'm lyin' I'm dyin'. We beat Slayton. You can look it up (but I wouldn't know where). Leota beat Slayton in Little League baseball that one time, that one year, more than a half-century ago.

Our coach treated all of us to ice cream cones at a local drive-in in Slayton after the game, and then the looooong (OK, I don't know, 20 miles or so?) victorious drive back to Leota.

We had beaten the big guys, had slain the dragon. Me, Ivan, Loren, Gene, Ed, the other Gene, and the rest...all of us. We beat Slayton.

We only lost one game that whole year and I can't even remember who it was. It might have been Woodstock when we got to the tournament, a team we'd beaten twice before. I can't be sure but somebody beat us that one time.

And I suppose, over 50 years later, does it really matter that this little Little League team beat that big Little League team?

Of course, it doesn't. But of course, it does.

For so many years after that, all through the decades, whenever I would be back in Leota our Little league coach from that year would say 'Hey, remember when we beat Slayton'?

Oh yes, yessiree, I certainly do remember that game, I remember pitching that game (I could pitch plumb good, but I could NOT hit worth a toot. Those 3 hits Grandson Ayd got in that first game? That was more than I got all year). I remember us winning that game.

Our Little league coach that year was a great guy named Howard. Howard passed away years ago and now when I visit that little township cemetery to check up on my Mom and Dad, that cemetery out there outside Leota between the corn and beans, I stroll over to his gravesite, his stone. And I ask him (or I just ask me, I guess), 'Remember when we beat Slayton'?

I hope wherever he is, he does.


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