Throughout this (very freakin’ long) baseball season, a season filled with loss after spectacular loss, we coaches were consistently challenged to find ways to motivate the team. The one really good thing we have going for us is the fact that they’re 7 and 8 years old, and hence have the attention span of a fruit fly with ADD, plus the fact that the team gets free snow cones after each game, win or lose. Believe me, after your team got smoked 12-0, you’re awfully damned glad for those memory-erasing snow cones. Even with that, we often had to have post-game speeches that sounded a lot like “Hey guys, you really did a great job today of…um…getting hit by pitches, and…um…oh yeah, not throwing the ball backwards. You’re showing a lot of improvement.” The fine line between snickering and smacking your forehead is razor-sharp in those situations, and you just thank whatever deity you worship for the fact that the games are over at 7:45, no matter what.

As I mentioned in my previous non-post, we haven’t won a game since J.Lo had a small ass and gas was $1.35 a gallon. Now, the kids believed we had won a least one game, and we never let them think any differently, but the simple fact was that this team was Ohfer with two Ugly-Bumpers (honestly, even I have no idea what the hell I’m saying. I really don’t. But if I say it with enough conviction and bass in my voice, you’ll assume it’s a cutesy sports-related Southernism that you haven’t heard before, and you’ll start using it in conversation, and before long, I’ll become an icon. So feel free to utilize.) Something HAD to give eventually, right? Right?

Well, after 4 long-ass weeks of not following doctor’s orders, and doing such heart-clutching activities as running, jumping on a trampoline, climbing fences (damn, this sounds like a Valtrex commercial), 8YO was finally ready to get his Boot of Doom and No Baseball off last Thursday. However, on the previous Tuesday, the aforementioned 8YO went all Snake Blisken (seriously, look it up. If you can’t keep up with my random and obscure pop culture references and wild tangents, I can’t do nothin’ for ya, man) and ran away from school after deciding that his time was better spent doing that rather than completing a writing assignment. He was suspended from school for the very last day, and I gotta tell you – he’s lucky he’s not walking with a whole ‘nother limp after that. But I’m not here to rehash the pure adrenaline and excitement of your son’s school calling to say “Um, he ran away, and we don’t actually know where he is right now, but we’re looking for him.” ‘Tis neither the time nor place. Anyway, I kinda violated one of my own parenting rules by allowing him to play in the game on Thursday, given that he’d been out for 4 weeks, and there were only 2 games left. Plus, we had paid the $65, and I intended to squeeze every little drop of baseball out of this season that I could muster. Trust a brotha.

Typically, our games would go kinda like this: If we batted first, we’d find 3 ways to get outs – strikeouts, pop flies, ground-outs, gunned down while stealing 2nd base, tagged out for lifting a foot off of first base while the first baseman still had the ball, throwing the bat twice after making a hit, sliding headfirst into home plate, running out of the base path, 2 runners occupying the same base at the same time…you name it, we did it. Sometimes twice. When the other team got up to bat, they’d either hit or walk until they got 4 runs, the maximum for a team per inning at our level. We’d get up to bat again. Rinse and repeat. However, something was different on Thursday. Very different. We got up to bat first….and kids were getting on base. Walks. Hits. Getting hit by pitches (hey, it counts). Whatever. Kids who had no business seeing the bases were suddenly wide-eyed and looking at me as I coached first base. Hell, I had to tell a couple of them where to go next. Kids were stealing – successfully! Kids were sliding into home plate – successfully! And before we knew it, we had 4 runs and only 1 out. For the first time ever, we got 4 runs in our first at-bat, and had to switch.

Generally, even if we would get a lead, what would happen next is that our pitchers would suddenly forget how to throw the ball from the mound to home plate without it taking 2 bounces, our catchers would develop a perfect baseball-sized hole in their mitts, our infielders would mysteriously watch as hit baseballs rolled right between their legs, and our outfielders….well, they pretty much were the same no matter what. Our outfielders consisted of the round kid who wore soccer shoes and never ran; a kid with an incredible arm (and absolutely no aim) who would stand as still as a statue as the ball rolled closer and closer to him; a new kid who had to use the bathroom after every single inning, it seemed; and our blind kid. Yeah. Blind. Legally, but still. Suffice it to say that when balls got hit into the grass, we were relieved if anyone got to the ball, ever. However, on Thursday, the pitching was sharp. The catcher stopped the ball. Infielders were making catches and making plays. And the outfielders….like I said, they were pretty much the same no matter what. But even that was good enough. We exited the first inning up 4-1.

The second inning went like the first, with our team getting 4 runs, but this time the other team decided to wake up and make it a game. They also got 4 runs, leaving the end of 2nd inning score 8-5. It was then that the air started slowly easing out of my balloon of hope. “Here we go”, I said to myself (and to the other assistant coaches). This would be the point where the wheels would fall off, and our descent into Losstopia would begin. But at the top of the 3rd, Fate smiled on those boys once more, and once more they put up 4 runs on the other team. At this point, mathematics took over. Our Little League has a 4 inning max per game, a 4 run max per inning, and a one-and-a-half hour maximum time. So by using some trigonometry, some algebra, some differential equations (if you don’t know, ask someone and watch them cringe), and some dried chicken bones, the umpire determined that the other team was mathematically unable to catch up with ours before time would expire, and proclaimed us….winners.

Winners.

Not “it’s really a tie, but we’ll tell the kids they won” winners. Not “they played really hard and came up just short” winners. Actual, factual winners, earned honestly through footwork, teamwork, and hard work. Winners, definitive winners, with no arcane rules about rolling back scores, no moral victories, no near-misses, no hanging chads, just…winners. For the kids, it was exciting, but they thought they’d already won before, so the shine wasn’t quite as bright as it was for the coaches, who knew better. This victory was sweet, so sweet that it left us speechless. Usually our games end with the coaches picking out a few pieces of cubic zirconium from the pile of offal, buffing them, and presenting them to the team as highlights for the game. But this game was straight diamonds. I had never won as a coach before, and it was kinda overwhelming. And no, I didn’t cry. But I was filled with pride for what the boys had achieved, how far they had come. It was just one win out of 20-odd games, but one was all we needed.

I went into the season dreading the idea of coaching. It was foreign and unfamiliar, a personal stretch that put me in a position of responsibility over 11 kids who trusted my judgment. I feared my lack of experience and my lack of knowledge. But looking back, I really had nothing to fear. I knew so much more than I thought I did, and the things you pick up along the way become as ingrained as putting on socks before shoes. I had fun. It was enjoyable. And I’m going to miss doing this. Our last game was yesterday, and, showing a perfect display of seasonal symmetry…we got our asses beat down, 12-3. It was rough, horrible, frustrating, infuriating, and oh so very sweet. Au revior, baseball.

See you next year.

Peace.

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