Reflections of Another Baseball Season

“The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings…”

Seasons inevitably change. Things come and go. That’s life. That’s the way it is. The end of one thing and the beginning of another gives us the chance to reflect on what was and what may follow.

The weather continues to get warmer and the school year is winding down. Both are reasons to be happy excited if you are a young man (or young lady). Unfortunately, we recently observed an ending: The end of the baseball season.

Baseballs laying on the grass.

At the level I coached this year, the focus was more on fun and learning than scores, winners, and losers. Therefore, at the end of our 2021 season, I look at the improvements each player made. The Boys of Spring came to me in the cool, damp days of March and April. I did what I could to fix holes in their individual swings and flaws in their fielding and throwing. I kept it as simple and basic as I could. I reminded them to keep their glove down on the ground. I told them to relax at the plate and don’t swing for the fences. Improvements were made during the season and I’m glad to have played a small part during the journey.

Children and adults on the baseball field.
Another deep conversation before resuming the game.

There were also the deep, stimulating conversations we had during the game. These usually consisted of, “I’m tired.” “Can we go home?” “I need water.” “I have to go to the bathroom.” We had eight players on our squad this year. Five or six of them wanted to play first base at once. A simple bunt down the third base line would have meant a sure double. Luckily our opposition wasn’t so baseball-savvy.

One child spent the whole morning asking when we’d be done. I told him we had two more innings. He responded, “NO!” I apologized and quickly amended it to three. Apparently, this was not the answer he was looking for either. Another was excited to learn we share the same birthday month. We are now officially “Birthday Twins”.

The complaint department handled grievances regarding the lineup. I always tried to make sure the same person didn’t hit first or last every time. Occasionally, one or two of the players would try to change the lineup. By “change”, I mean write his name down and no one else’s. Other methods of altering the lineup included running to the dugout and being the first to get his helmet and bat thereby superseding the written lineup. I called Rob Manfred to make sure this was indeed a rule. I’m still waiting for confirmation.

There were displays of strength such as boys seeing if they could throw the ball over the fence instead of at the intended target. There were boys running away from the ball. This was when I reminded them they had a glove to protect them. There were two runners on a base. I reminded them it was one at a time. The boys told me about school and Pokémon. I told them about Mel Ott and George Brett. I traded stories of school with the children and bourbon and scotch tips with my assistant coaches.

It was a season of fun and learning. We taught baseball and smoothed over bruised egos. I hope the children enjoyed themselves. Thanks to my assistants D and R for their help. Thank you to C, D, J, J, L, M, R, and W for their (unending) feedback on my coaching and showing me the ways I can improve upon myself.

And I think I inadvertently hit two or three batters. Sorry about that.

Players lined up at home plate after a game.
Waving good-bye to another baseball season.

Little League, Big Dreams

Batting is a miraculous thing. Players who were tired and dying of thirst are suddenly filled with newfound life and energy. Boys who couldn’t stand up are suddenly men with vigor and gusto who are ready to grab a bat and face danger.

A baseball and baseball glove.

The sun is shining. The weather is getting warmer. Birds are singing. It means baseball season is arriving again. It also means a new crew of children to whom I will pass on my love and knowledge for and of the National Pastime.

It also means trying to nail down the names of six or seven new players, which usually means an afternoon of, “Hey!” since I need to get a message across to somebody fast. I might need to bring somebody’s attention to a ball thrown in their direction or wake somebody up who is not paying attention while they are on base and another baserunner is heading for that base. Who knows with this crew?

What I do know is this: There are some future managers on this team. I have a bunch of players who aren’t much for listening, but they love to remind the others where they need to be. They also like telling me who has already played first base and they haven’t hit yet.

Let’s start with my team on the field. The Boys of Summer take the field. Three of them are standing on first base. One might be catching. One or two might be somewhere else on the infield and ask if it’s alright where they are. My first order of the inning is to convince two of the boys on first that they need to play somewhere else. I usually tell them something like I can’t waste their arm at first base or I need someone with their speed somewhere else on the field. Something motivational that will convince them to move from the prized first base. This usually includes a promise that they can play first base later in the game.

That’s done. Players are in position. I look around to see my crew and make sure they’re ready. One is making a sand castle. Two more are practicing ninja dropkicks on the grass. My teams usually include different players doing the same things every year. I just guess who it’s going to be doing what.

Sorry, Slugger. Rules are rules.

Now we’re ready. Players in position. One is looking back at the concession stand. They smell something. Burgers. Chicken fingers. French fries. I remind the player they need to face forward and get ready in case the ball is hit to them. The ball is hit. The fielder fields it and the ball goes sailing over the first baseman’s head. I take this opportunity to remind everyone on the field (again) that the object of the game is to reach the first baseman’s glove, not to show how strong they are. I tell them it’s alright. There are no girls around. They don’t need to show off their strength and can save that for recess the next day.

Children playing baseball.

Sometimes there will be two or three players chatting with each other in the middle of the game. Something urgent and compelling, I’m sure. These are Kindergartners and first-graders so I’m sure what’s being discussed is Earth-shattering. I break up the roundtables and direct the children’s attention to the man at the plate. I don’t need another player threatening to quit because they weren’t paying attention when the ball was hit to them and they took one on the leg or the arm. Our time on the field mercifully comes to an end and it’s our turn to bat.

Batting is a miraculous thing. Players who were tired and dying of thirst after 10 minutes on the field are suddenly filled with newfound life and energy. Boys who couldn’t stand up are suddenly men with vigor and gusto who are ready to grab a bat and face danger. I am met with “Can I hit?” “Is it my turn?” “When can I bat?” This is when I am reminded by numerous people who didn’t get the chance to hit first in any inning last time.

I give the order. This isn’t an actual “game” so it’s a different order every inning in order to make sure the same person isn’t hitting first or last every time. I give the order and, throughout our turn to bat, remind my men who is hitting next and who is on deck. I’m at home plate, sometimes; making sure the feet are where they should be, hands are positioned right, elbow bent. My player is relaxed and ready. I check his feet. I remind him of the batters box (I draw one so they know where to stand) and tell him to stay there and wait for the ball. Level swing. This is what I tell them. Bats go everywhere. Players swing at angles Trigonometry Professors have never seen before. Some players want to stand behind the plate. They draw a box where the catcher normally plays and, since there’s a box there, it’s perfectly alright for them to be there. I explain that’s not the way it works and they need to stand in a Regulation batter’s box. Sorry, Slugger. Rules are rules.

Sometimes I pitch to the budding baseball battlers. These boys are still learning how to hit without a tee, so I am careful and cautious when it comes to pitching. Sometimes, however a pitch goes awry and I hit a batter. I hate that. Not as much as the one who gets hit, but I hate it. I run to the batter, make sure they’re alright and we don’t need to amputate. He’s alright and, after some prodding and convincing from the parents, returns to the box to finish his time at the plate.

He makes contact. Infielders pile upon each other for a chance to get the ball and throw the ball. They can finally do something. The batter runs. I remind him to run the other way. He changes course. I remind him to run without the bat. He flings the bat. Suddenly, I’m Pepper Martin diving out of the way in order to avoid the incoming bat. I’m in my forties and I still have my agility.

The day comes to an end. We line up at home plate, walk past the other team, and say, “Good game.” No handshakes because of the ‘Rona. I end our session with some words of wisdom. Something to inspire the troops. The Boy and I head home where he tells me about what I need to improve on.

Fun With Flag Football

The Boy has moved on from baseball to flag football. This new experience has paired him with different friends from school and the neighborhood. So far, he seems to enjoy it. Then again, he’s up for anything but baseball right now.

I offered my help to the coaches if they needed it. They accepted. There are over 10 kids on the team who need help lining up, knowing when to run and stop running. Conversations on the sidelines get so intense that the kids don’t hear their names being called on to the field or being told to get off the field. That’s where I come in. My main job is to shout, “On the field!” or, “Off the field!” Coaching baseball has prepared me for this.

Like every other sport, football offers its unique challenges. Strategy is paramount. It’s important you don’t tip your hand to the other team so we try to shush the kid who yells, “Don’t forget I’m getting the ball!”

There are other things we need to work on. Focus is one of those things. After the quarterback takes the snap, they will sometimes hand the ball off. If the running back doesn’t have their attention stolen by something else happening on the field (an airplane, someone who looked like a classmate, a fly), that’s a small victory.

We also need to remind the children that there are more receivers than balls. This will come up when someone doesn’t get the ball thrown to them. They were wide open. The defender couldn’t catch them. Why didn’t the quarterback see them and throw to them. Their upset but a little encouragement in the huddle while they demand a trade or a new quarterback usually calms them down and allows them to refocus on the task at hand.

It’s been an interesting season, so far and we’ve won more games than we’ve lost. That’s always good. We stretch before practices and games so kids don’t pull a muscle or sprain anything. Other teams are running sprints and doing pushups. We don’t get into that. It may change if we see Bill Belichick scouting our team for any future players but that doesn’t seem likely.

Marvin the Foreman

Sometimes you see kids and you just know what they’re going to do when they grow up. Coaching youth sports gives me insight to plenty of kids. I watch some and I just think to myself what this one could do with a little molding. I see others, like the subject of this entry and think to myself, “Good luck, World.”

I have one player on my team this year who happens to be one of the kids in my neighborhood. So, I already have a feel for his personality and what he will bring to that proverbial “table”. I am also friends with his parents and I love relaying the nuggets this child utters to them from time to time. His dad tells me he’s going to be a foreman when he grows up. I can’t say I doubt that.

I’m going to call this child “Marvin” (Google “Marvin Miller” and you’ll understand why.) Marvin is a kid who makes sure you don’t forget about him. Even after you tell him where he’s playing or when he’s going to bat, He will ask you if it’s his turn yet, or why he can’t play over there. I’ll tell him it’s because there’s already someone over there. He throws his hands in the air and rolls his eyes. “Oh my God!” he exclaims. “Why can’t I just be over there?!” He mutters a few more things that I can’t quite understand because he is walking away and because I have other crises on the infield that require my attention.

Ready for work. A game? Not so much.

Marvin doesn’t miss much, especially when it comes to a break from the action. Immediately after it’s time to take the field, Marvin needs water. I remind Marvin he just had water and he should have had his water while he was on the bench, which, technically, he did have. He thinks for a second and says, “I have to go to the bathroom!'” I get his father’s attention and Marvin and Dad make their way to the bathroom (second time this evening.) Marvin returns and is unhappy to see his coveted position (whichever one he can’t get) has already been claimed by another player. Hands go up. Eye roll. The injustice. The humanity. Why? Why?!

Alex Cora never had it so hard.

Heart, Soul, and Slugger

I’m going to call this kid “Slugger”. Slugger is a boy who is excited to be at the field every time. He’s not necessarily interested in playing baseball but there is an infield full of dirt. We’ll get to that later.

The t-ball season, like other volunteering opportunities, has offered an abundant supply of memories and life-lessons. Every year, there is always one player in particular that will stand out in your mind forever. It’s not the clumsy swing. It’s not the lackadaisical “trot” to first base. It’s more the overall behavior and personality about that one kid who, through fate and chance, just happened to end up on your team.

I love baseball. I love telling stories. This year gave me both.

I’m going to call this kid “Slugger”. Slugger is a boy who is excited to be at the field every time. He’s not necessarily interested in playing baseball but there is an infield full of dirt. We’ll get to that later.

Slugger gets to the field and he is ready to talk. He likes to tell me where he’s going to go on vacation, where his family wanted to go originally before Corona palooza, and how his family came to that conclusion. I listen as intently as I can. There are other children coming up to me wanting to know the batting order. One of the players (The Union Guy) wants to know how long this is going to be. He needs to eat dinner and doesn’t really want to be at the field too long, or at all for that matter. I’ll tell you about him later.

Slugger is always asking me when he’s going to hit. “Is it my turn now? Is it my turn now? How about now?” I tell him not yet.

Slugger will finally get his chance to bat. I show him where to stand, where to put his feet. He’s standing next to me. I point to the line I drew for him. He looks at me. I remind him it’s his turn to hit. He steps up to the plate. God bless him. He hits a weak ground ball that makes it to the pitchers mound. He runs halfway down the line before he finally hears me say “The bat!” He flips the bat behind him. I dodge the missile. It’s a small bat. He’s a small kid but I don’t want to take any chances.

Slugger takes the field. I’m on the field with my players. I position them according to the hitter. There’s no set rules for where the players need to be. There is always three or four players wanting to play first base. The “pitcher” and shortstop draw their own bases so they can have one too. I’m constantly calling Slugger’s name. His attention is on his father, standing on the other side of the fence, a bird flying overhead, grass growing. Anything but the game at hand.

Slugger’s favorite activity is tracing in the dirt. He likes to practice writing his name. He’ll draw pictures. I’ve had to deflect a couple of ground balls that would have bruised his ankles. His latest feat was showing me how he could bury himself up to his ankles in the dirt. That’s great, Slugger. Here comes another ground ball.

When Slugger does get a ball, sometimes he’ll throw it. Sometimes he’ll roll it to the first baseman. Sometimes he’ll just run it over. He’s into Cardio… And it gives him a chance to talk to one of the teammates. There’s not enough of that on the bench.

Slugger likes to show me his facemask. He likes to tell me about the close calls he has before the game. Like the time he thought he lost his hat but then he remembered it was by his door with the rest of his stuff because he didn’t want to be late to the game. He was reminding himself about the game all day. Sometimes it’s his glove. Sometimes it’s his uniform. You never know will Slugger but he’ll fill you in.

He’s a gamer. He’s a kid who doesn’t quit. If you had nine Sluggers on your team, you wouldn’t have to worry about hustle or attitude.

Heading for the Homestretch

Another day of forced fun.

Our T-ball season draws to a close. I am proud of the improvements my team made over this brief and unique season. If anything, I hope these troopers will take at least one thing they learned this year and apply it to their game as they grow as people and baseball players.

There were plenty of teachable moments and growing pains this year. I needed to remind players that if they were on one side of the field, there is no need to run to the other side and chase the ball. This was especially important for the first baseman, who somehow thought they could catch and throw at the same time.

Speaking of first base, that position taught my team the importance of sharing. Everyone wanted to play first base and there were usually two or three people congregating and explaining why they needed to play first for that inning. The future union rep was always in the middle of the discussion and explained why everyone else was wrong.

Everyone got out and got some exercise, including me. I got my share of aerobics in by dodging wayward bats and balls coming in without warning. I was also running after the pack of children who needed to tackle each other so someone could throw the ball. Ah, yes. Throwing. How could I forget my little shotput thrower. Every ball hit to them was a chance to show off his arm. It was a good arm, I have to admit. I was constantly reminding Kid Kannon that the object was to throw the ball to first base and not see how many trees they could clear.

The Boy was on my team this year. He has joined The Oppressed in giving up hitting for life. He has no use for it. Hates it and would like to see baseball banned from the world forever.

Yes, it certainly has been a fun-filled year. No more chats with individual players about what they’re having for dinner that evening. No more rundowns of how their parents are at another field to watch a sibling play. No more close calls about how they couldn’t find their glove at home but they remembered they had it in their room and they ran to get it and still made it to the field. No more knowing glances from the other coaches. No more being reminded by my players of who and where there players are. I go back to dealing with five children and continue to show some semblance of organization and balance.

T-Ball Basics

Like you, Corona screwed a lot of things up with my family. Loyal readers of my heartfelt stories know the challenges faced when it came to homeschooling the Miracles of Christ. You may also recall the fun times when I coached not one, but two baseball teams last spring. Due to Coronapalooza, our season got pushed back to the first week of August and like most T-ball teams, this crop of kiddos comes with their challenges as we tackle the fundamentals.

Given where we are with this whole pandemic, I’m guessing we’re lucky to be doing this at all. We’re slowly easing back into group settings and six kids on a baseball diamond seems manageable. Even when they are in their extended dugout, the tikes are able to keep a safe distance. When our team is up at the plate, my attention is divided between the dugout, the batter, and the baserunners. I’m making sure the batters hands are in the right position. I’m making sure the batter has a level swing. I’m making sure everyone is keeping a safe distance in the dugout.

I also have to make sure the runner on first doesn’t run after the ball. That’s happened. The runner chases the ball, picks it up and will try to throw it. I tell them to not pick it up. They then look around for a fielder to hand it too. If these kids don’t make it in baseball, they certainly have a solid grip on etiquette and manners.

We wear masks on the field. Again, I need to multitask. One fielder is chewing on their mask. Another is making a pretty sand mound… And then there is our future Major Leaguer. This kid doesn’t have an agent but they are able to make sure they have ample water breaks in the middle of the inning. It gets hot out there and they need a drink maybe every other batter. And what happens when you drink? You got it. Said future union dues-payer likes to make sure they are able to use the bathroom as often as they can. Sometimes, I will remind this player they just got a water break and how can they need another one already. That’s when Marvin Miller remembers he hasn’t used the bathroom yet.

Yes. It’s been a rewarding season. I’m still reminding kids to use the gloves they are already wearing instead of trying to catch the ball with their bare hands. Although catching with their bare hands is a small improvement. Some still run away hiding their faces when the ball comes to them.