Thursday, April 26, 2007

In The On Deck Circle . . . .

We had the final team meeting tonight before this weekend's Opening Day. P., the guy I coach with, started by talking to the parents while the kids warmed up and looked at their new uniforms.

"There are three things we want to make sure everybody understands. First, the batting order is on a rotating alphabetical basis. During the course of the season everyone will bat lead-off a couple of times and everyone will bat clean-up a couple of times."

The parents of the child whose last name starts with "Z" shuddered.

"We're doing it alphabetically by first name."

They relaxed.

"Second, every kid is going to play every position he can handle without getting hurt or embarrassed. Catchers, pitchers, and first basemen have to be able to handle the ball. The rest of the positions are fair game. If your son wants to spend some extra time catching or throwing, give one of us a call. We're going to spend most of our free time for the next couple of months at the field with our own kids anyways."

No kidding. It's the only way to get them to shut up.

"Third, the most important thing is that we have fun. We'd rather lose all our games and have a blast than win them all without enjoying it."

The parents nodded and smiled, a good sign for the season ahead.

I took Slorn out to work on his throwing while P. warmed up the other kids. After a bit we talked about force plays, and stealing, and relays. A couple of the guys were clearly bored ("Please stand up and pay attention, yes you") but, God help us, a third of our kids have never played before and it's got to be done.

Then it was time to practice getting out of the way of wild pitches. P. tells them, "Listen, just dive out of the way. Don't try to protect yourself with the bat."

"If my bat's a light saber, can I just cut the ball in half?"

The kids laugh. P. and I look at each other, then we laugh too.

"Only if your parents have a good dental plan," says P. I'm not sure the kids get it, but they know it's supposed to be funny so they laugh some more. There are a few more light saber jokes, then we get back to work. They look okay, better than we'd thought a few weeks ago.

Practice ends. We gather the boys around.

"Opening Day is Saturday," we say. "You guys ready?"

They nod, serious. Like warriors, or the way they think warriors should be, or the way that actors pretend to be warriors.

"Good. Here's what we want. If you strike out, have fun. If a ball goes through your legs, chase it and have fun. If you lose, have fun. Does everybody understand?"

They think for a moment. There are a few, my youngest and P.'s son among them, who hate losing.

"Does everybody understand?" we ask again.

"Yes, coach," they reply, not completely convinced.

It doesn't matter whether they believe it. What matters is that they hear it, that they hear it from us, from their parents, from all the adults in their lives that teach them how to grow up. That they hear it, over and over and over.

Opening Day is Saturday. We're going to have fun.


zombie rotten mcdonald said...

You sound like an excellent coach.

my son had a coach like you for his dalliance with baseball, too. Unfortunately, he's got my athletic ability, so nothing comes naturally.

But for three seasons, he's had fun and tried some baseball. This year, he's decided he's not going for it; it's his choice and at least he tried it; and at least he had fun playing, even if he wasn't the greatest player.

High point: the team played Helfaer park, the sweet LL field at Miller Park- they played one of their talented, older opponents and managed to beat them in a pitcher's duel in which Eric played well and got a hit.

Have fun this season.

Elmo said...

God I love baseball! Sounds like with your help, these kids will too.

Anonymous said...

You sound like a good coach, Snag, one worth sending your kids to... except... my youngest child's first name starts with a Z.

b.kiddo said...

i think z-boy should be last. I dont like him(ha!). But someone always has to be last and although z-boy cleared this time zeke Adams really got screwed

Anonymous said...

Why aren't there any daughters on the team? Just curious. Not being a total AG ball buster and keychain collector.

Anonymous said...

AG- my daughter's team is coed and is almost a 50/50 split. Go girls!

Snag said...

I suggested we do the good coach, bad coach thing to keep the kids on their toes, but P. overruled me so I can only yell at the team when he's not looking.

I saw Helfaer field when I was at a Brewers game a few years ago. It must have been a blast for him to play there. Even if he doesn't play organized ball again, he'll have some great memories, and that's what counts.

Ah yes, but Zeke Adams would be the first food and drink captain, which he'd like even if his parents didn't.

As to why there aren't any girls on the team, that's an interesting question. This year, there are only a couple of girls playing baseball in his entire age bracket. We have very active and competitive fast-pitch softball leagues that serve our area and most of the girls have gone there. There hasn't been an effort to steer them that way, it's in large part because sports is still such a social activity at this age that kids gravitate toward playing with their friends and the majority of those friends are of the same gender.

Each of the previous two years, though, he's had a couple of girls on his team, both of whom were very talented. It was a good experience for him, because he knows he won't get cooties if he plays with a girl and because he believes that girls are as capable of boys at doing things he holds in high regard.

In fact, all my kids have played for female coaches at different times in different sports and none of them think twice about it. We've probably gone more often to cheer for our local girls teams than the equivalent boys teams. They watch womens sports on television. They seem to understand that while there may be differences in the way men and women play, in rules and in strategy, neither one is inherently superior.

Chuckles said...

"You kids are going to HAVE FUN and you are going to LIKE IT and I am NOT going to hear ANYMORE OF THIS CRAP ABOUT BEING BORED. I don't care if this church looks THE SAME AS THE LAST FOR CHURCHES, it has stood for 1200 years WAITING for US. Now shut up and GET OUT OF THE CAR." - My Dad, in his typical 'Have Fun' speech.

God, I can't wait to have whiny kids.

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

My son, too, always had girls on his team. And they were committed and talented too; they certainly could play as well as any one of the boys. It's all good.

Helfaer was a blast for everybody, and chalking a win against arival was a bonus. Plus, I got to do the announcing. Woot!

I don't much care for ML baseball, but I am a fan of all the leagues below that. Madison used to have a wild-ass minor team called the Marlins that was always a party.

Anonymous said...

That's impressive Jennifer! AG always thought softball was tragic. It's good to know baseball is available for girls who are interested.

Anonymous said...

Get out into right field, punkass!


Can you do an emoticon with a frowny face crying? Because that is what little league was for me. I was an on base MACHINE, though, cuz I never swung the bat.