Billy Heywood could be integral toward the Nationals having a better than sub-par season. Don’t know who Billy Heywood is? He’s the first and only 12-year-old baseball manager whose team lost to a guy who notched 300 wins in the 2009 season (against the Nationals at Nationals Park) aka Randy Johnson in the 1994 film, Little Big League.
Sure – Billy Heywood is a fictional character from a 90’s sports movie made for children. That is but a mere technicality. Writer Gregory K. Pincus captured what was great about baseball through a 12-year-old boy who, if he were Jim Riggleman right now, would know how to knock some sense into our Nationals before the season gets them down.
Here are five lessons the 2010 Nats could learn from Billy Heywood and his grandpa Thomas:
Lesson One: There’s 162 Games, Don’t Forget
Thomas Heywood: Okay. It’s only May. A lot can happen. [On the Twins losing record] … You’re not making excuses because the Twins are losing? You’re not front runners are you?”
The correct answer in this scenario is: “No way, I’d rather see the worst team ever than go to my grandmother’s,” according to the movie. I agree. As much as I love my grandmothers, going to a baseball game on a school night was always a can’t miss opportunity.
Anything can happen between April and October. Anything. That’s what’s great about baseball. That’s why even the team that loses the most deserves support. They’ve made it through the minors. It took most of them awhile. They deserve fans just as much as the next guy.
Lesson Two: You Only Get One Shot At This Thing Called Life
Thomas Heywood: “I wanted to ask you if it was okay for Billy to go to the game on Tuesday. It’s Boston. Roger Clemens is pitching. It’s Roger Clemens the greatest strikeout pitcher in the game today and Billy’s never seen him live. Jenny, when I was Billy’s age I had a chance to see Walter Johnson pitch. “The Big Train” they called him. But I didn’t go. And for me, he was the greatest pitcher that ever lived and I never saw him play. And you know, when you get to be my age you realize you only get one shot at this thing and it doesn’t last forever, so if you get the chance to see something really special, you don’t pass it up.”
Jenny Heywood:“Well if you’re gonna resort to wisdom, I guess I don’t have much choice.”
Nope. Billy’s mom did not have a choice in the matter. She was wise to say yes. Why? Here’s an example.
My dad used to surprise me after school or softball practice with Cubs tickets. At the time, I thought it was because he wanted to make me smile since I loved nothing more than going to Wrigley Field as a kid. My face lit up like Chevy Chase’s Christmas tree in the Griswold family’s National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Now I know his secret – he wanted to go just as bad as I did. Why? Well, that’s lesson number three.
Lesson Three: Kids Just Wanna Have Fun
Billy Heywood: “Hall of Famer Bob Lemon once said, ‘Baseball was made for kids. Grown ups only screw it up.'”
A self-explanatory lesson is always an easy one to understand. I never even played little league as a kid. Instead, I created my own T-Ball team with the help of my parents. I designed a t-shirt, shirts, organized a practice schedule, found a diamond to play games, and even recruited the team. I was eight. If it was fun then, lord knows that if you’re a grown up still playing the game of baseball as your JOB, you’re the envy of both eight-year-old me AND twenty three-year-old me, not to mention all those other die-hard baseball lovers out there in America.
Dear Nats, Win-loss record gotcha down? Riggleman being hard on you because you’re not playing like you should? If these are questions you find yourself thinking at practice, in the dugout, or on the field this season take a minute to remember what made you fall in love with baseball in the first place. What made you smile about it? Odds are it’s some combination of The Sandlot meets Little Big League meets Field of Dreams. Once you’ve found your happy place, give playing another shot.
Lesson Four: Don’t Let Baseball Divas Run The Show
Mike McGreevy: “I’m a disgrace to the Twins, I think you should trade me.”
Billy Heywood: “No we’re not. We’re not trading you.”
MM: “So what are you gonna do, bench me?”
BH: “Nope. Play you. When it’s your turn to pitch, you pitch. Nothing changes.”
This hasn’t been a lesson the Nats have had to learn the hard way yet. The team was never ripe with big-headed talent. Alfonso Soriano is as close as they’ve been to coping with a pesky guy not producing the numbers his huge contract says that he should. The Nats were smart in that case. They unloaded him on the Cubs and he’s been there giving Chicago pains in their side for years.
Now this is not to say that guys like Pudge, Zimm, or Dunn are gonna go and get a hot-head from being a face of the Nationals. Pudge is a veteran who is bound for the Hall of Fame. Zimm and Dunn are still young and looking to carve their name is baseball’s history. My suggestion? The Nationals should use Strasburg as a constant reminder to the Nats active roster that youth and love for the game produces results, not multi-million dollar salaries and promotional deals. While I don’t see this becoming an active problem in the Nationals Clubhouse now or anytime in the near future, it’s always good to plan ahead. If they need a plan to put a halt to any chance for a Diva-dominated clubhouse, now they’ve got one.
Lesson Five: You’re On Baseball Cards, What Could Be Better?
Billy Heywood: “Maybe the problem is you guys forgot how much fun this is. You’re Major Leaguers. I mean you’re on baseball cards. What could be better? Don’t you understand? You guys get to play baseball every day. You get to go to Yankee Stadium and play in the same outfield as Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. You get to go to Fenway Park, step into the same batter’s box as Ted Williams. Look, from now on, stop worrying about winning and losing. Just go out and play and have fun. You make an error forget it. You strike out? Who cares, just as long as you hustle.”
That Heywood kid pretty much covered it with that one. He’s right, you know. Every now and then a person needs a reality check. We’re all human after all. It can’t be easy to be a Washington National. The entire country, your home town included, has the preconceived notion that you’re not going to win. Think about that Nats fans and D.C. residents. The Nats know their reputation. They know it when they step up to the batter’s box to hit and the take their positions on the diamond to play the field. It’s the Nats responsibility to win, but it’s also the fans responsibility to help be a part of that motivating factor. Motivation is what notches victories in that win column of the Washington Post sports section.
Baseball is fun. Grown ups don’t mean to forget, but they tend to, which is why I’m reminding you now. So start getting excited! Opening Day is four sunrises away from being a reality. With that, I leave you with a baseball gift to get you through the rest of your day. Plaaaaay ball!