Sometimes, how a sports team performs in the regular season is not an indicator of how it will perform in the playoffs.
A prime example of this took place this season in Oak Park Youth Baseball and Softball’s Pinto League, where the Dark Knights and Landlords finished at the bottom of the league in the regular season.
But then in the playoffs, the teams defeated higher seeds and wound up meeting in the championship game on June 21, which the Dark Knights won 15-8.
“I really don’t know how it happened,” said Dark Knights coach Tim Kalita. “We were not a real strong team at the beginning of the year, but the kids just got a lot better. It goes to show that you can improve if you work hard.”
Landlords coach Jason Gerace also didn’t have an explanation for his team’s sudden postseason success. But he knew the Landlords were competitive during the majority of the season, losing six one-run games.
“The kids wanted to keep getting better and wanting to win,” he said. “They worked hard and kept fighting. Anything can happen in a single-elimination tournament, especially with eight-year old kids.”
Kalita believes that the lesson to be learned is that one should never assume anything in sports.
“It’s not set in stone on day one that some teams are better than others,” he said. “It comes down to who’s going to improve, who’s going to focus and who’s going to hone their skills. That’s what I told the kids, and they listened.”
Despite losing the title game, Gerace feels the Landlords had a good year.
“For us, it was an absolutely successful season,” he said. “They got to play and be together as a team. They got to experience the ups and downs, and kept working hard to develop as young players.”
Like most coaches, Gerace likes winning. But he also believes that is not the most important thing for 7 and 8 year olds in the Pinto League. Instead, camaraderie and enjoyment are valued the most.
“We told our team that baseball is a game that you play with your friends to have fun,” Gerace said. “Yeah, you want to win and compete, but that’s not what it’s about; we’re grateful to play, and that’s all there is to it.”
Kalita was pleased that the Pinto League was able to play a season after last year was canceled by COVID-19.
“It was nice to get back to playing baseball,” he said. “It was fun, and I think the kids really liked it too. We had a couple of new kids join us this year, and hopefully new friendships come out from it.”
Here are the players for the Dark Knights and Landlords, in alphabetical order:
Dark Knights: Ross Bales, Maxwell Kalita, Jonah Kastelic-Shapiro, Nathan Lawrence, Owen McBlaine, Jeff McCall, Abram McFarland, Connor Merrill, Roman Perez and Jack Roskos.
Landlords: Finn Belmont, Dashiell Carr, Brooks Gerace, Hank Goodrich, Connor Kennelly, Roger Kiley, Seamus McCormick, Maccabee McEachen, Elliott Mason, Bob Moroney, Charlie Tybor and Hank Walton.