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National Elevens help me rediscover I'm still a fan

Most of what we chronicle in sports is about the athletes who actually play the games. We talk much about their successes, a little about their failures and some about their multitude of skills. Occasionally, I am reminded about what sports means to us spectators. I have been in the spectator category for a long time. My own modest athletic endeavors have long since been in my rear view mirror, and I must admit they lot much brighter from that vantage point than they did in the glare of reality.

As a reporter, I am bound by a code of ethics to be impartial. Horse manure. On the local level, you can't help but develop an affinity for local teams and players. I hope I give credit where credit is due to all teams and players, regardless of race, religion or color of cap, but the truth is I am a fan and I am human. Last Saturday was a day when I was reminded of just how much fan I still have under my own cap — no matter what the logo says.

I was reminded of just how much fun it is to be a fan.

It started with the Petaluma National Little League's 11-year-old All-Star game against Mill Valley. The game was played in the heart of rich-people country, with the massive mansions of Tiburon looking down on the Strawberry Recreation Park. It was the kind of Saturday afternoon that make people want to build their monstrosities on the side of the glistening bay.

I've seen a few baseball games in my time, and I don't often get overly excited even when I silently, but admittedly, favor a team that gets locked up in a tense tussle. But as this game wore on, I became more and more personally involved in the fortunes of the Nationals as they struggled against a Mill Valley team that was very much their equal.

As the game played on, I got more and more into it, firmly believing that the Nationals would find a way to emerge on top. I was still confident when they went into the sixth inning down by a run. My stomach began churning when the first National batter in the top of the inning hit the ball hard, but right at the Mill Valley right fielder and it was really growling when the next batter hit the ball just as hard, but into the same glove for the second out.

But faith was rewarded when two batters reached on a hit batter and a single that rolled through the infield. My palms were sweating and my fingers were crossed when Nicco Bertalucci blooped a short pop-up toward right field. "It's going to fall!" I shouted, all pretense gone. It did indeed fall, and Mill Valley, because the players, after all, are just 11 years old, kicked it around long enough to allow both the tying and go-ahead runs score. The Nationals added another run and went into the bottom of the inning with a two-run lead. I was breathing again.

But not for long. The first batter up for Mill Valley walked. I exhaled again when the next batter hit a line drive right at what, by this time, I was calling our second baseman, Ryan Ramos. The next batter ripped a shot that seemingly tore a hole through "our" first baseman on its way to right field. A walk loaded the bases.

By this time, you weren't alive if your heart wasn't pounding. I can only imagine what the parents were going through. It was classic — bases loaded and the clean-up hitter coming to the plate.

You could see it coming. You didn't want it to come. You willed it not to come. But you knew it would come.


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