Some Stuff I Learned Coaching Baseball

This is my second year coaching nine to eleven year olds in the American pastime known as baseball. I learned so much last year. I’m not a rookie any more, but I’m still learning. They seem to be bigger lessons now. Deeper. And they apply to life, not just baseball. It’s weird like that.

These kids, boys and girls alike, are on the field because they want to play, because they’re looking to be a part of team, to have fun, and learn the game. They’re not competing for multimillion dollar contracts. They’re not competing for a first round draft pick. They’re not even competing for a golden glove. They want to hit the ball, run the bases, and perhaps a few of them are looking to get dirty sliding into home. Or second. Or first, even.

Give each of them their chance

Once you take winning and losing off the table, when it’s no longer an option, then the field is wide open. That kid who keeps asking to pitch, but has trouble throwing hard enough to get the ball all the way to the catcher? Give them a chance. At least then they’ll know there are 8 other positions they can try. That kid who has never played baseball before asks repeatedly to be the catcher? Let them armor up and try catching. So what if they make a better goalie than catcher, at least now they know it’s not as easy as it looks. And outfield sucks. The ball is either never hit out there or when it is, you have run to go get it. UGH! Most worstest position, ever!

It’s not always to go your way

Sometimes the umpire does a phenomenal job and sometimes you’re pretty sure Stevie Ray Wonder could have done a better job. Part of our job as coach is teach respect for the other team and for the umpires, so we say nothing. That pitch was at eye level but called a strike? So be it. Just be ready to swing at it next time. You got called out when you were safe? I’m sorry, but we don’t have instant replay. We’ll get ’em next time. This is where we learn “it is what it is”. Arguing is disrespectful. We can’t change the umpires, but we can change our attitude.

It’s not always fair

The kids just want to play ball. So when we showed up to a game with 12 players and the other team had just 6 we didn’t want to cancel. The eighteen kids who showed up would have been disappointed and no one would have gained any experience from that. So we asked if anyone would be willing to play for the other team (they were a team from our town so most of our team knew the other team). Three were willing and that made it nine versus nine. Fair. Then the other team won. With our players! Can you say frustrating? I can. The kids had fun, though. Isn’t that what counts? UGH… I guess so…

Even a rookie can surprise you

Our team this evening was comprised of nine players. Six of them were first year players. Several of them made great plays in the field to get us some outs. They were all swinging the bat to get hits. One nearly hit a homerun (he was tagged out at home). Just because they’re the underdog, just because they’re not expected to perform well, doesn’t mean they’ll live down to that expectation. With just the right piece of advice, or just the right timing, or just the right attitude, they can make the smallest hits into the biggest deals. When given the chance, they can end a losing-by-15 game with laughter.

While the kids are learning about baseball, us coaches are learning about life. Sometimes it’s all home runs. Sometimes it’s nothing but strike outs. Usually, it’s a little of both. We just hope for more home runs and fewer strike outs. We give it our best swing, our best throw, and make the best of it.

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He Told Me Not To

A coach once told me that if a doctor ever tells you that you have only 3 hours left to live you should go to a mosquito (little league) baseball game. It’ll be the longest three hours of your life.

We were losing the whole game. We were always close, but always losing. After the 5th inning we were down 16-15. The 6th inning would be our last chance. The sun was on the horizon and once it dipped below it would get dark fast. I knew there was a chance we wouldn’t be able to finish. You can imagine my dismay when I saw their pitcher warming up. He was throwing with heat. Gordon Ramsey in Hell’s Kitchen kind of heat. Fastballs that I feared my mosquitoes wouldn’t be able to hit and we would be 3 up, 3 down and game over.

You can imagine my surprise when he loaded the bases with walks.

You can imagine my surprise again when we had suddenly scored 5 runs and found ourselves up by 4. I was watching the darkness creep up on us and knew we had to get the 6th inning over if were to win. You see, if a game is called on account of darkness the score reverts back to last inning that was finished. We were losing in that inning. We had 1 out against us and I quietly told my next batter to strike out so we could get this inning over. Unfortunately, she was hit. A bean ball that scored us a 6th run and put us up by 5. I told my next batter the same thing. He struck out, though not on purpose. 

2 outs and the sun was below the horizon now. We were playing on borrowed time. Twilight time. We had to end the inning pronto. I quietly approached my next batter and explained it to him.

Me: This is going to make no sense right now, but in order for us to win this game I need you to strike out.
Batter: So you want me to swing at everything?
Me: Yes

And he did too. One pitch sailed over his head. He swung, not even attempting to hit the ball. Our coach down at 1st base hollered to him to not swing at pitches over his head. I laughed because coach wasn’t in on our plan. He swung and missed the second pitch, too. He swung at the 3 pitch and connected solid with it. The ball sails like a runaway kite in hurricane out into right field. The batter stands on home plate simply watching it as if he were watching a ball game instead of participating in it.

The first base coach is yelling, “RUN! YOU HIT THE BALL! RUN!”

The batter is standing on homeplate pointing toward me at third and hollering back, “HE TOLD ME NOT TO!”

The right fielder throws the ball to first and the batter is called out. 3 outs. Change sides.

Bottom of the 6th now, we’re up by 5. I’ve got a pitcher throwing who usually throws zero run innings. It’s nearing 8:30 and it would be hard for me to argue to keep playing should the other team decide it’s too dark. I’m no lawyer. I probably couldn’t argue my way out of a wet paper bag. The other team does score one run. But we also make three outs to end the game with a win.

We won because of an almost strike out, because a hitter slugged the ball but stood still,  and because a team made it happen when it counted most.

Now swing on over to FacebookTwitter and Instagram and follow me round the bases…

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Lucy At Home

Put Me In, Coach!

I’ve been playing baseball since I could stand and swing a bat. Back then I wouldn’t throw. I wouldn’t give mom a turn at hitting. As I got older I learned to enjoy fielding. Making the plays. Diving catches, pitching from the mound, and throws out at first base.

I was an infielder back then.

Later, in University, my brother and I joined a men’s modified pitch (fast pitch, but underhand) softball team. I became an outfielder. Chasing down fly balls, throws out at home plate, and robbing homeruns.

That was 20 years ago. I haven’t played since.

This year, I’m finding myself in a slightly different role. Coach. I got a taste of it last summer and it tasted good. One game last year Crash’s coaches couldn’t make the game so another Dad and I stepped up and said we’d do it. We lost, but we and the team had fun losing. So when they were looking for coaches for this season, we stepped up again.

Now I find myself torn.

With this league being what’s called a “house league” there are no tryouts, no one gets cut, everyone makes a team. Since it’s an all-play there is a wide variety of skill levels. There are 1st season kids who haven’t played before. There are 2nd seasoners who are okay, but still have some needed improvement. There are also kids who have been playing much longer who understand the game and can make the plays.

What I’m torn between is giving kid the experience they want playing the position they want and playing kids in the position I know they can play and giving us the best possiblities for a win.

Winning is fun. Playing outfield sucks.

If I play to win, the game could end sooner. If I play for the kids’ experience, the game could drag on and on worse than watching Star Wars episodes I, II, and III.

If I play to win then the kids who are at an advanced level get to play a bit more than everyone else. That’s one thing I’ve been trying my hardest not to do. I give everyone the same amount of playing time no matter good they are.

We all want to win, but we all also want to pitch and play first base. Can’t have all 9 of them on first base. So I battle to get the kids to play where they want and still keep the game moving quickly and end up with a win.

As of right now we’ve won one, tied one, and lost two.

What would you do? Play the kids so you win or play the kids so they get to play where they want even if they struggle to play that position?

Now swing on over and follow me on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram! Homerun!

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