Take a good look at this picture. Really, I mean, click on it and take a nice good look at the enlarged version.

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Look at those faces — the delighted smiles, the obvious bonds formed over the course of a season playing side-by-side, the pride and (no doubt) exhaustion. Do these look like losers to you? They don’t to me. And that’s pretty darn remarkable because this photo was taken at 11:15 last night after the Rangers lost their twelfth straight game, a perfectly imperfect season without a single win in it. And not only did they lose all their games but, in most of them, they got trounced. The mercy rule was the only thing that got us out of dreadfully long innings in which batter after batter was walked all the way home.

They are a young team, clearly lacking the experience at kid pitch of their competitors. They struggled all season with finding a single player they could rely on for consistent pitching. One kid would strike guys out in one game and walk every batter the next. And their fielding was, let’s be honest, here, rather atrocious. All Bad News Bearish with balls rolling between their legs, uncertain hesitation at critical moments, and cringe-worthy overthrows while runners gained base after base. It was rough, on all of us, . . . rough.

But, it was also completely inspiring. Because these kids cheered like mad, encouraged along by their level-headed coach. They smiled and shouted and hugged each other after games. They patted each other on the backs for small accomplishments and big mistakes, and they learned one of sport’s — and life’s — hardest lessons: how to lose well. These boys and one girl are excellent losers and that is a skill that will take them far in life, buoying them when things get tough and humbling them when things go well. I can’t wait for the day any one of these athletes is on a team that crushes their opponent, because I hope they remember what it felt like to be that player.

And last night’s game — a single elimination playoff game in which they faced the number one seeded team — was positively spectacular. Because if our kids can’t field, they sure can hit. And they were on fire, with every single player hitting hard and hitting well. They had faced this team twice before: in a 24-0 loss to open the season and a 19-8 loss midway through. Well, last night’s final score was 23-19, a scramble-from-behind, messy and completely victorious loss (no, that’s not an oxymoron in this case, trust me).  The game had tons of exciting moments, including our first and only and much-needed grand slam in the second inning in which we saw the score rise from 9-1 to 9-8. But my very favorite moments were smaller and quieter, as my favorite moments so often are: when one of our pitchers accidentally hit a batter in the foot (not an uncommon event in this league — the pitching gets a leeeeettttle wild) and as soon as the batter took first base, our guy ran straight over to apologize and make sure he was okay. And when one of Braedan’s best friends struck out to end the game and Braedan walked right up to put his arm around his buddy and assure him he’d done well.

These kids may have lost week after week, game after game, but they did it with their heads held high, with smiles on their faces, and with some of the best displays of sportsmanship I’ve ever witnessed. And I couldn’t be more proud.

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