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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.
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.
Allow me to clue you all in on the competitive nature of Texas youth sports. Have you ever seen “Friday Night Lights” or “Varsity Blues”? Those movies aren’t fictionalizations or dramatizations of events, they are carbon-copy facsimiles of how things really do work in Texas athletics. Sure, you expect to find people jockeying for position and wins at the high school and collegiate levels, but what’s truly surprising is how deep it goes. For example, 5YO plays soccer in a league that doesn’t even allow goalie play. Do you realize that even at the 5 year old level, coaches are constantly on the lookout for the best players, and when they find ’em, they horde them like a warlord sitting on a pile of gold and whores. Or golden whores. In fact, there’s something called the Freeze Rule that permits this very thing.
The Freeze Rule basically gives coaches with existing teams the ability to designate certain players as undraftable, meaning that when the player draft occurs, those players are not available for selection by other teams. On the surface, it doesn’t sound horrible…if you’ve worked hard to cultivate talent, and you know the strengths and weaknesses of your players, you’d naturally want to continue their development, particularly if you’ve been winning with them. The problem, though, is that teams were allowed to freeze their entire rosters, effectively eliminating competition for the good players. And if that weren’t bad enough, this season there were more players than available coaches, so the league created two expansion teams to accommodate the overflow (because you know good and damn well that they weren’t about to turn down the $65 per kid just because there weren’t enough coaches). My team was one of the expansion teams. Now, class – does anyone see the problem with (a) the freeze rule being in effect, and (b) my team being a brand-new team? Anyone? Bueller? It means that we had to pick our team entirely from the draft (which is as it should be), but without having skilled and experienced players available to select from. And while our kids are great guys, we’ve come to realize after 4 games that we got the crumbs, not the entrees. The smallest player on any team we’ve seen is only as small as the median player on ours. Some of our kids look like smurfs out there, compared to the giant kids on other squads. And skill-wise? I watched one catcher jump up from a squatting position and fire the ball on a rope to 2nd base. Our catcher? I’m thrilled if the ball makes it to the pitcher in less than 3 bounces. I’m not dogging on him…I’m just pointing out the disparity in player skill that we’re forced to deal with.
Game 4. Coach F (who is now the head coach – long story) was unavailable for this game, so someone had to step up and be the interim head coach. Someone. Hmm…who is the least qualified person to do this monumental task? Why, let’s get Coach Damian to do it! He won’t say no! And he didn’t. I got roped in yet AGAIN, because I’m a sap. The United Negro College Fund ought to just install a permanent remote station at my front door. For some reason, I had the bubbleguts all day. I was nervous…worried about the game, worried that I wouldn’t know how to manage my roster, worried about my level of knowledge about pitching, worried about dealing with the umpires. That last item proved to be the main thing I had to be concerned with, because when I got to the game that night, I discovered two things very quickly:
- There was only going to be one umpire for the game, and he was 16 years old
- I’ve forgotten more about the rules of baseball than he’s ever learned
He came up to me, voice cracking like that ubiquitous teenager on “The Simpsons”, and said “It’s just gonna be me tonight, coach. We’ll try to work together, ok?” I gave him the fisheye, but shook his hand and figured we’d work together. That plan evaporated almost immediately, when a batter on the other team hit the ball directly to our 2nd baseman, who smartly tagged the runner going from 1st base to 2nd base, then threw the ball to 1st base. Double play! YEAH BABY! But Peach Fuzz Ump, in his infinite wisdom, jumped up and said “SAFE!” on both plays. Prior to this, I thought I’d have a problem going out and defending my kids, mostly because I’m just really laid back by nature. But when this happened, I could feel the black bile of anger replacing the bad case of nerves in my bubbling belly. I yelled “BLUE!” (Apparently, all coaches call all umpires “Blue”. I learned that in Game 3.) “He tagged him clean!” And Baby Blue said no, he missed. Never mind the fact that the baserunner who got tagged actually was physically repositioned by the tag (meaning the 2nd baseman pushed him with his glove, confirming that he made actual contact). This call was followed soon by him calling a ball on a kid who swung on a pitch, albeit 3 seconds after it hit the catcher’s glove. When I nearly popped a blood vessel over that, he called the next pitch a strike…even though the batter did the exact same thing. Inconsistent much? My assistant coaches were damn-near apoplectic (I link because I love) with rage and outrage (but strangely, no inrage or road rage), and I had to calm them down just so we could get through this debacle without a myocardial infarction. Man, I’m lousy with the $5 words today, aren’t I?
In the end, we lost 6-0, and although it wasn’t the ump’s fault entirely, he sure as shit didn’t help matters. In fact, on a couple of calls, the OTHER team’s coaches kinda cocked their heads to the side as if to say “…really? Damn, okay, we’ll take it.” Add that to the fact that instead of two umpires (one behind the plate, one in shallow centerfield), we only had Mr. Similac Breath there to decide important matters like “If the pitch is at or above the player’s forehead, is it a ball or a strike?” The parents for our team got on him so bad that he finally called in reinforcements in the form of…another umpire. Why THIS guy couldn’t’ve been there the whole game, I do not know. What I do know is that once again, we got bent over and dealt with in a way most foul, and with us already being at a disadvantage due to ye olde Freeze Rule. Some of the kids were crying during and after game, partly because of the familiar feeling of losing, and partly because they messed up and they knew it. We’re hoping that we can break through, finally find something for them to latch onto and use for hope. All this losing…it wears on you. I learned why coaches have ulcers and thinning hair; why they only sleep 3-4 hours at night; why they look like Atlas, holding the world on their shoulders. As a coach, you have all the responsibility for the outcome, with none of the ability to actively participate in the game. And things like The Freeze Rule don’t help. We’ll keep finding things to build on, and hopefully the boys can find a way to win. At 0-4, they deserve it.
ELATION EDIT: Okay, I wrote this post after the game on Tuesday. We had another game on Friday. We won!!!
See, the games have either a 4 inning or 1.5 hour limit, whichever comes first. If the game hasn’t concluded before the time limit, the umpire calls the game over, and the score rolls back to the previous inning’s score. We scored the only run in the game, in the 4th inning, and the game was called with only one out recorded in the bottom of the 4th, so they rolled the score back to 0-0. Stupid-ass rule, if you ask me. But the kids don’t know that. All they know is when the game was called, the scoreboard read 1-0 in favor of our team, and they burst into screaming and smiling and pure joy. We weren’t about to take that away from them. As far as they know, we won.
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.
Part-time coaches like me sometimes fall into a perilous pit once we get out on the field. It’s even worse if you’ve actually played the game you’re coaching, because your mind gets flooded with all those memories from 20 years ago, and they smell fresh and new and so recent, and you forget that two decades have passed since you last laced it up and competed. It’s hard to push that mental DVR back into its proper place, but if you don’t, you’ll end up like me.
Thus far we’ve had 3 practices, and the kids are improving by leaps and bounds. A few even know where all the bases are, and if you think I’m joking, I’ll say this – I’m happy that SOME of them know we’re playing baseball at all, and I’ll be thrilled when a few of them actually face home plate when they’re on defense. But we three coaches are working hard at teaching them the fundamentals, and they’re slowly catching on. Already we’re starting to identify the good players, the players who need work, and the players who will perfect the fine art of ducking when the ball comes whizzing at their faces. We’ll keep lots of ice and gauze on hand for those little guys.
At the end of practice, we always have the players run. It’s good for them, it builds up conditioning, and after an hour or more of practice, more than one of them deserves it. We hold the threat of running over their heads as a punishment for talking while coaches are talking, disrupting practice, or other offenses, but we make ’em run anyway because…well, we’re all fathers, and we’re sadistic, and we all know that just because we may not have caught them doing shit, they more than likely DID shit, and were just slick enough to get away with it. And because we’re dads, it means we were boys, and we know how boys think, and that gives us the ultimate advantage in deciphering their chicanery. Running is like default punishment for the things we didn’t catch, and we use it as a tool to root out the weak. Oh, and it’s good for conditioning or whatever.
On the second day of practice, we had the kids all line up, shoulder to shoulder, preparing to run. We challenged the boys, egging them on to beat each other so that the default running won’t seem so much like default punishment. Once they were all jazzed up and competitive, we were gonna let ’em loose like the hounds of the Baskervilles, and watch as they damn-near ran up each other’s backs in an attempt to win the race. It was a nice day, folks…sunny skies, decent temperature, a slight southwesterly breeze blowing my lack of hair…it was an ideal setting for me to make a jackass out of myself. So as the kids were toeing the line and bending their knees like Olympic sprinters, ol’ Coach Damian sauntered up to the line, nonchalantly, as though he was the tall kid on the roster. I looked down the line and said “Boys, I’m running too.” And in a foolish display of stupidity, I then said “And don’t let me beat you!” Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever had the chance to watch 11 8 year olds get uber-excited at the prospects of genuinely beating an adult at something, but it’s almost exactly like holding a chicken over an alligator habitat. Frothing. At. The. Bit. They looked at me, sizing me up, deciding their overall strategy for taking me down, but I was Cool Hand Luke, not even taking off my sunglasses. The other coaches looked at each other, then me. They weren’t ABOUT to participate, for they knew better. Coach F has a prosthetic leg, and Coach C is a bit on the round side for that level of physical activity. Coach F said “ON YOUR MARK,” and 11 kids focused on the backstop about 70 yards away. Coach F said “GET SET,” and I eased my sunglasses down, just a little, so I could stare at the little miscreants before I turned on the afterburners and left them in my dust. Coach F said “GO!”, and off we went. My long legs easily put me out in front (of a bunch of 8 year olds, lest you forget), and I was clearly out in front. 20 yards from the backstop, I looked back, expecting to see 11 kids so far behind me that I’d need to send them postcards, but boy did I get a shock.
As I turned, I saw something improbable – a kid BLAZING up behind me like a cheetah chasing an old, heavy gazelle. It was Ringer, and my GOD that kid can flat-out run. He actually scared me, ’cause the only thing I expected to see was my cloud of dust. I couldn’t back down though, so I did the only thing I could do – I started talking smack. “You’re not gonna let ol’ coach beat you, are you?” This I said as I increased my speed from You Got This to Um, Maybe You Should Take This Seriously, Man. I started running for real then, leaning into it and closing my mouth. I glanced to my right, and Ringer was literally right beside me, his face contorted in focus. “Oh, shit” I said, to myself, not wanting to explain to his parents why I cussed to their precious child. I started running HARD, like “Chariots of Fire”, and I swear I nearly heard the theme music.
40 yards from the finish line, my lungs started burning.
30 yards from the finish line, my knee said “You’re an idiot.”
20 yards from the finish line, Ringer pulled out in front, without much effort.
10 yards from the finish line, an invisible man came up beside me, pulled out a fillet knife, and started stabbing me in my left side.
5 yards from the finish line, I used the last of my afterburners and pulled slightly ahead of Ringer.
At the finish line, I won. I WON! And I realized at that moment how badly I wanted that win. I couldn’t let an 8 year old beat me. How sad is that? As Ringer crossed the line, he calmly sat down, waiting on final instructions from Coach C. I, on the other hand, was breathing hard, walking off the hurting knee, wishing an invisible cop would arrest the invisible man for assault, and wishing that my youth came in a pack of three, like paper towels. It was at that moment, that very instant, that Coaching Lesson 101 came into full actuality to me: I am not on the team. I am a coach, and moreover, an old man who shouldn’t be trying to prove himself to a bunch of kids who’d largely rather be playing Xbox than practicing baseball. The other coaches looked at me, smirks on their faces, and I looked at them through watery eyes and said “Don’t ever….let me do that….again.” I took their hands over their mouths as agreement. I love baseball.
As you may recall, my eldest son, 8YO, tried out for Little League last weekend, and I wasn’t lying when I said the boy tore it up. After I got the phone call confirming the child’s obvious brilliance at America’s Past Time, I strutted around my office like a peacock on Viagra during mating season. That feeling was the epitome of personal achievement, because naturally I gave myself credit for instilling a sense of greatness in the boy, and our sessions of playing catch and hitting ground balls was most certainly the deciding factor in his selection. In other words, you couldn’t tell me shit.
(I’m surprised my big head could fit into the elevator that day. I swear. I need to slow my roll. It’s Little League, not American Idol – what kid DIDN’T get selected? Idiot.)
On Tuesday, I left work a little early for the team meeting, scheduled for 6pm. I got there, and DWW arrived with the superstar and 5YO. The meeting was at the baseball field, outside, in the bleachers. This is significant because on Tuesday, it was about 45 degrees and windy as a mofo outside. With the wind chill, I estimated the temperature was somewhere between “Brrrrrr” and “Hug a hobo for warmth”, and my thin jacket really wasn’t enough protection from the Arctic blast. I just hoped and prayed that the meeting would be brief. Upon arriving, we (the parents) quickly discovered one disconcerting thing: the team had no coach. Because so many kids tried out for baseball, the league had to create two new teams, and ours is one of those expansions teams. Those teams had no coaches, and the league needed someone to step up. And when I heard the call for help, I responded in the only way I could.
I wasn’t ABOUT to become a baseball coach. I didn’t have time. I didn’t have experience. I didn’t have equipment. I didn’t have a clue. So when the lady said she needed someone to to coach the team, I suddenly found my shoes to be quite interesting. When she later repeated that someone needed to volunteer to coach, I found a cloud that looked just like Halle Berry. After about 20 minutes of going over the season and things the kids and team will need, the league official said “Listen, we have to have a coach, so we’re not leaving here today until one of you steps up.” You would’ve thought she said “I know one of you left a turd on the coffee table, so no one leaves until someone fesses up.” Guys started saying why they COULDN’T do it: schedule, lack of experience, rap sheet…the reasons kept coming. I didn’t say a damn thing. Finally, a guy in short sleeves surrendered to the cold and said “OK, I’ll do it.” Praise be to Jesus. And THEN, dissatisfied, the league official lady said “And we need some assistants.” One guy who didn’t want to head coach immediately jumped up and volunteered for that, and when no one else would even make eye contact with her, I heard my mouth saying “Well, I’ve played baseball…maybe I could help out too.” Hearing a voice that sounded like mine, I looked around, only to discover that the other dads were looking at me with relief in their eyes, and the league official and other coaches were all thanking me for participating. I had seriously just volunteered to be an assistant coach. Holy shit.
The first practice for our team (which I’ll call The Badgers, because that’s just plain funny) was Saturday morning. I nervously took 8YO there to meet the other two coaches, and the 12 man team. Since I know I’ll be talking about these kids in the future (and in this post today), I’ll go ahead and assign codenames so I can freely talk shit.
- Ringer – tall and fast and with lots of baseball experience. Hits like a high schooler, and he’s only 8.
- Crier – a small fella, first year playing, and very afraid of the game itself.
- Specs – another first year, but rangy and with good eyes and coordination.
- Rounder – short and fat, and runs like a piggy bank on its hind legs. First year.
- Brat – this one’s gonna be trouble. He talked CONSTANTLY, has trouble listening, and generally won’t let the other kids do anything without him either (a) jumping in and taking over, or (b) criticizing them somehow. Also, while I was running a catch and throw drill, Brat decided that he’d play a game called “Attack the Coach”, and started hitting me with his glove. I then played a game called “You Better Take Your Little Chicken McNugget Ass Back To Your Squad Or You’ll Run Laps Until The Sun Goes Down.” I predict a lot of laps for him.
- CS – coach’s son. Good kid, relatively unremarkable so far. Has experience.
- ACS – assistant coach’s son. He’s got skills, ’cause the other assistant coach used to be a head coach, and ACS has played for several years.
- Shrimp – tiny little guy with glasses, not many skills, but pretty fearless.
- 8YO – my young ward. Can hit well, needs to focus more in the field.
- Hot Shot – son of an ex-coach, who corrected him non-stop. He’s played before, and is pretty good.
- 2 other kids I can’t remember. Hey, it was my first practice. I can’t expect to remember EVERYONE. Damn.
We practice Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, each of which coincides with a band rehearsal. Yay me. Looks like I’ll be going straight from work to pick up 8YO, go straight to BB practice, take him home, inhale some dinner while standing up, and immediately set off for band practice. Those days are gonna suck hard. I think the weirdest part of the whole thing was having to buy my 8 year old son an athletic supporter, and then watching 5 or 6 kids in the practice whacking themselves in the weenus repeatedly to demonstrate the effectiveness of the equipment. Freaky, man.
I’ll keep you posted on my coaching progress. It’ll be interesting, for damn sure.