I think the best part of being a coach is watching the kids display the things that we, as coaches, have been teaching them. It’s so cool to watch them get in front of the ball, swing from their hips, push off from their back foot when they pitch…it’s pretty cool, I gotta say. The worst part about coaching is the fact that once the game starts, you are little more than a spectator with a loud voice, a rising blood pressure, and a uniform that semi-sorta looks like the ones worn by the kids.

Saturday was Opening Day, the long-awaited debut of the little league season. We’ve been working hard to get the boys ready for the first game that night, and with a couple of exceptions, everyone was geared up. Honestly, we still have 2-3 kids on the team who couldn’t find third base with a map, a flashlight, and a talking GPS unit. Those kids do not start. We were told to be at the fields at 11am on Saturday for the Opening Day ceremonies, which I understood to mean “a bunch of teams walking across the baseball field, waving at their parents, and then leaving to nap before the 6pm game”. Apparently I didn’t read the brochure closely enough. 11am was the time for “volunteers” to show up and help with the kids’ carnival. And by “kids’ carnival”, I mean “a bunch of bounce houses that cost $1 per 3 minute block of jump time”. Seriously, we had just paid $65 for a league fee, done a $100 per kid fund raiser, $30 per parent for gatorade and a banner, and god know what else, and then they charge $15 for an unlimited access pass to BOUNCE HOUSES? As a coach, a bunch of parents  came up to me expressing outrage concern over this, but it wasn’t my call. Little League got my money, too.

2pm was the time for the team parade. We gathered up all of our little ball players (except for one kid, who is ALWAYS late), and lined up to take the field. Boy, didn’t I get a surprise when I saw the teams ahead of us sitting down on the field, instead of waving to mom and dad and stepmom and Grandpa Joel and whoever else. I looked behind us, and the coaches for the other teams all had collapsible chairs that they carried with them. I looked at one coach (who was wearing coaching shorts, and may I just say…no. Just no. No one, I repeat no one should ever wear coaches shorts. You know the ones I’m talking about. These.

Yeah. Now imagine these shorts in a size 38 waist being worn by a man with a size 42 waist. Burn that mental image in your mind, and you’ll get close to the level of trauma I experienced when I saw that in real life. You’re welcome.) and asked why he had the chair, and he smirked at me and said “This ain’t my first rodeo, son.” I figured it wouldn’t be THAT long…they’d make a few statements, give away some prizes, and let us go. That was my hypothesis. Here are the results:

  • Opening Day speeches/pledges of allegiances/recognitions – 45 minutes
  • 2-man base running for all the teams – 30 minutes
  • 2-man base running for the coaches of all the teams – 15 minutes
  • Prize giveaways – 30 minutes
  • Time Coach Damian spent standing, since he (a) didn’t bring a chair, and (b) didn’t want to sit in the wet grass – 2 hours

Well, that last figure isn’t totally accurate. When they announced that they needed 2 coaches per team to run bases, I got volunteered to run with Coach C, and I have to tell you – I’m tired of getting volunteered for shit. Just sayin’. And another thing: for high school and up, the bases on the baseball field are 90 feet apart. For little league, they’re 60 feet apart. Do you know how hard it is to run fast while turning a corner 30 feet sooner than you’re used to doing? All the coaches were pretty much running at a sideways 45 degree angle, and nearly busting much ass since none of ’em were wearing cleats like the kids were. When Coach C and I got back to our team, huffing and puffing, one of the other coaches said “Hey, you guys did great! Wanna see the instant replay? I videotaped it.” Without waiting to hear us both say “Nooooooooo”, he rewound it so we could watch the carnage that was. They say that even the largest, most bulky animals have a certain grace and elegance in the wild, when they are performing the duties that Nature has assigned them. Watching this video replay was evidence to the contrary. We looked slow, fat, and as coordinated as a pregnant giraffe roller blading downhill on gravel while having a grand mal seizure. It was decidedly non-pretty.

6pm was game time, and I was nervous. Having never coached before, I was mentally unprepared for the amount of nothing that a coach does once the lights come on and the team’s on the field for real. In all the practices, the coaches were out in the field, correcting stances and trying to get kids to focus. But once they took the field for the game, we four were all in the dugout, screaming out instructions like “Quit playing with the grass and focus on the game! I know there’s a helicopter – it’s not on your team, so ignore it! Son, if I have to tell you to focus on the game one more time, you’ll owe me laps!”. Other than words, we were helpless. When the team was up to bat, it was a little better, because they were in the dugout with us, and we could talk to them. I learned a valuable coaching lesson on that night, by the way. I was the first base coach, and one of our players improbably hit the ball. I say improbably because not 2 swings prior to that, he damn-near hit himself in the head with his own swing. Do you understand how hard it is to hit yourself in the noggin with your own bat? I wasn’t planning out ways to get him from 1st to 2nd base, if you know what I mean. So when he swung at the ball (which was about 2 feet over his head, mind you), I wasn’t expecting him to make contact with anything except air and a couple of gnats. But he smacked it pretty hard to shortstop, and he was running fast. The shortstop scooped the ball, threw it to 1st base…and the 1st baseman missed it. By this time, my runner had pretty much reached 1st, so I was telling him to stay, but the 3rd base coach could see that the 1st baseman wasn’t gonna make the catch, so he was waving frantically for the kid to keep running to 2nd. Once I saw that, I told him “GO GO GO!” He looked at me like I had just spoken in Mandarin Chinese. I said “GOOOOOOO!” and he kept looking at me like Mario Van Peebles had just sprouted out of my shoulder to start filming “Posse 2: Electric Boogaloo”. All the while, the right fielder and the 1st baseman were converging on the ball, and the kid just wasn’t getting it. I did what came naturally – I reached out, touched him on the shoulders, and pushed him toward 2nd base. Oh my no. Bad Coach Damian. You can’t touch the players. Automatic out. This poor kid, who can’t even catch the ball, miraculously got a hit, and I messed it up by touching him. The coaches on my team all said “NOOOOOOOOOOO!”, and the umpire stood up, looked at me, and just shook his head. Nice work, Damian. Maybe next time you can have the other team just throw the ball to you so you can tag him out. We came out on bottom in that game, losing 4-0.

The frustration comes in the fact that we coaches are so powerless in determining what actually happens on the field, and yet also ultimately responsible. You can tell a kid 223095 times that he has to back up 3rd base if he’s in left field, but if the ball comes flying past the 3rd baseman and the left fielder is just standing there, watching the ball roll 10 feet to the left of him (yes, this happened, in game 2), it’s your fault for not having him ready. We go back to the drawing board, running the same drills again, emphasizing teamwork and focus and fundamentally sound skill, but once the ump yells “Play Ball!”, it’s all on them to actually perform what you instruct. But with that frustration comes moments of pure joy, when you see it all come together, even if only for one play. In game 2, a batter hit a hard line drive to 3rd base, where 8YO is playing. He calmly stepped up, opened his glove, and let the ball fly right into it. Out. Bam. Just like that. Everyone on our side of the field erupted, and I was proud as all hell of my boy. I guess, ultimately, those are the moments that you live for, as a coach.

They’re worth the wait.