It has been a long baseball season. Practices and games galore have left little free time for my usual pastimes of writing blog posts, drinking beer and playing video games. To add to the frustration of the commitment I made at the beginning of the season to coach my sons’ team, the time and effort put in has not always yielded results. During sixteen games this season, we won only two.
As a pee-wee coach, my responsibility has been to place the progression of my young players above all else, including winning. I explained this to all of my players early on and have repeated it over and over. While they watched as their peers on other teams celebrated wins, my players consoled themselves with the reassurance that they were learning. While kids said openly, “You guys stink, we creamed you last time,” my players muttered to themselves, “These games don’t count.” While one team pitched the same three kids all season long, every kid on our team who wanted to pitch got an opportunity. While that same team held their kids at static positions, our players were rotating in and out of the infield and getting valuable experience, even at the risk of their own personal safety and the potential of taking a line drive to the noggin while they scribbled their own name into the infield dirt.
This was the approach because with only six teams in the league, everyone was guaranteed a playoff spot. And so, we soaked in the spoils of mediocrity. Everyone was told they are special and that they had a good game. Each player received a game ball at some point. Every player got their turn on the mound with the worst that could happen being six runs allowed per inning (don’t even bother telling me what that makes their ERA, I don’t want to know).
It was also done because I knew that once the playoffs started, the boys on my team would be well rounded, confident and used to losing. They would go into the postseason feeling they had nothing to lose.
Last night, I tasted the sweet satisfaction that Hannibal (of the A-Team, not Lecter) must have felt when he watched a plan come together. Randomly seeded against the best team in the league, my sons and their teammates took the field and played their hearts out. They performed as best they could. They put every ounce of effort into the game from start to finish and they emerged victorious. Watching them pull off such a big win was the crowning achievement of mine and my wife’s coaching career and the smiles on the young faces knowing we lived to play another day made all the work worthwhile.
Sure, part of me went into the game prepared to lose. I believed in our players, but knew that a loss would not be the end of the world. I would have my evenings free again. I would no longer have to go stand out in the sun and be pelted by tiny granules of dirt blowing in the wind. I could finally clear all those damned helmets out of the back of my truck. But that reasoning was merely a defense mechanism. I went into last night’s game wanting to win just as badly as those kids because, while they will go on to do many great things with their lives and while the sky is the limit as to what they might accomplish in the coming years as they grow up, this is the best shot I have for the foreseeable future at feeling like I conquered a challenge.
I fully realize that the age difference between myself and my pee-wee players makes this so. The kids will move on quickly. There will something else in their lives that eclipses their pee-wee glory days. Perhaps one day they will coach children of their own and understand the triumph I felt last night while watching them win. I am thankful to all of them for the joy they have provided me and hope that they feel it with everything they try and do over the coming years.
I also hope that if they experience something similar with their own kids that they can keep the age difference in mind like I did. It’s the only thing that kept me from going up to the eight-year-old who bragged about creaming us, pointing at him and shouting, “In your face!”