Tuesday, June 3, 2008


I'm getting too old for this. We played the Yankees again tonight. Cold like last time, but at least it wasn't raining.

Things began well when one of our players threw a ball in from the outfield. I was chasing another ball and couldn't get back in time. Coach P. wasn't looking and it hit him square in the forehead and the kids and parents went quiet and stared. He took off his hat and rubbed the spot where it hit. One of the moms, a nurse, came over and asked him if he knew the date.

"I wish it was July 11," he said.

"What?" she asked.

"That's the day my vacation starts."

"Okay." Long pause. "Do you want some ice?"

"I think I'm alright."

A sympathetic dad walked over and offered him an egg roll. Hell, I'd take a shot to the head for an egg roll.

Another kid showed up with a two twelve packs of soda and gave one to Coach P. and one to me. He'd been sick and missed practice Sunday and we'd jokingly emailed his dad to tell him this was the price of getting back in the lineup. If we'd known it was going to work we'd have asked for a lot more.

The Yankees jumped to a quick 7-0 lead after two innings, helped in part by flexible umpiring by the dad of one of their players who'd been pressed into service. It was Coach P.'s turn to be Bad Coach and he muttered and paced while I tried to talk to him and prepared for an open field tackle if he made a move toward home plate.

Finally I went over to talk with his wife, who'd shown up late.

"He got hit in the head with a ball," I told her.

"How is he?" she asked.

"If his eyes start rolling back after you get home or he feels nauseous, you should smother him with a pillow."

She nodded her assent. When I told Coach P. about our conversation he asked me to go back and tell her to smother him regardless of how he was feeling.

The umpiring finally hit a critical point with a play at third base. The boy covering the position hasn't had much success in the field this year. In fact, he's had almost none. With two outs and runners on first and second the ball was hit to the shortstop, who flipped it to third, where it arrived a good couple of steps before the runner reached the bag.

"C'mon, guys, hustle off!" we yelled.

"I haven't made a call yet," the umpire said.

A few seconds passed.

"Safe," he said.

I was standing by the bench and immediately turned and walked away, intent on bashing my head against a tree. My expression must have betrayed me. The nurse mom grabbed my shoulder and said, "It'll be alright."

I turned to see Coach P. facing away from the field with his hands on his head. The headache already afflicting him was now clearly worse.

There was a shout from across the field. "Hey!"

We both looked. It was the other team's coach.

"He was out. Take your guys off the field."

We'd done something similar for him last time we'd played. For once a good deed went unpunished.

Coach P. waved to him. "Thanks!"

After that, we clawed our way back into it. My kid caught for two innings and threw a couple runners out trying to steal. Another boy, one we hadn't much hope for at the beginning of the season, followed that up the next inning when he also threw out a runner from behind the plate. Coach P.'s son fielded a ball in shallow right field and seeing an opportunity outran a Yankee to second base for a force out. As has been the case in more of our games than I would have guessed, everybody contributed something.

It wasn't all pretty. The school year ends Thursday and you could bounce a quarter off most of the boys, they're wound so tight. At least four of our players ended up in tears at one point or another, enough to prompt a dad to ask if he should run to the store for Midol. His wife glared at him but one of the other moms said, "They're spend enough time together, maybe they're on the same cycle."

Eventually the game ended and we'd won again. A few boys started hopping around in glee but we shut that down pretty fast, shook hands with the other team, told the umpire we appreciated his efforts, and retired to the bench for a post-game talk.

"Good game tonight," said Coach P. The kids beamed.

"Don't ever celebrate on the field like that again," he said. The kids looked down.

"Anything to add, Coach Snag?"

"Just one thing. When the other coach called his own guy out at third? That's the way you should play this game."

Coach P. sent out the customary post-game email tonight. We address them with the players in mind, assuming or at least hoping the parents will pass them along. Tonight's said, in part, "Let's stay humble and keep our heads out of the clouds. Showing good sportsmanship is just as important as the game itself."

I sent one back to him that said, "You must have gotten hit harder than I thought." Then I sent a note to the Yankees coach thanking him for what he did. I told him what it meant to the boy playing third and that we'd used it as an example for our own team. I wished him luck for the rest of the season and I meant it.


Adorable Girlfriend said...

Wow. Just wow on the third base issue.




Mr. Middlebrow said...

Much as I appreciate these parables of good sportsmanship, I'm starting to get kind of a worrisome, Dorian Gray vibe off your w/l record.

I hope Coach P.'s third eye feels better soon.