Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Inevitable Doom and Gloom Sets In

Last night, in my older son's machine pitch baseball game -- the team upon which I'm an assistant coach -- I had the following discussion with one of our boys as I was coaching first base. He's our fifth batter, and he led off our fifth inning (we were down 7-1 at the time) with a hit. Here's how it went:

"Nice hit, bud! Now, stay alert! As soon as he hits it, you be ready to run."

He gazes at the plate, looks me dead in the eye (from under an oversized batter's helmet), and says, "He's gonna strike out."

I pause for a moment, consider the batter who, granted, is in a slump (but he's still one of out better players), and say, "No. Nah, he's going to get a hit. You just be ready when he does."

Strike one. Strike two.

"He's going to be an out, just like I said." Strike three! "See, told ya."

The batter bangs the bat down and runs for the dugout. Meanwhile, the next batter strides with certainty to the plate. Certainty meaning that he knows that's where he's supposed to go rather than certainty that he may actually make contact with a baseball spraying out of the machine.

"C'mon, John!" I holler and then clap my hands. "Come see me. Alright, get ready to run," I reiterate to our player on first. I hunch over to watch how high the ball's going to go over the plate so I'll know whether the batter should move up or back in the box.

"I think he's going to strike out, too." It's the voice of the kid on first again, sounding like a world-weary cynic that has seen no end to famine and plague.

"Have some faith in our teammates," I tell him, still staring at the batter. "He's going to hit the ball."

"I don't think so. I think he's going to strike out."

Strike one. Strike two. Strike three.

"See? I was right."

Straightening up and turning, I glance at my baserunner, and he peers at me with eyes shadowed by the lid of his helmet. "Let's cheer on our team. Not tell ourselves they're all getting out." He shrugs at my comment.

Our next batter, and we're getting closer to the end of our order, which, lemme tell you, strikes fear in the hearts of many a mechanical pitching device.

"He's going to strike out, too. I'm just gonna be standing here for all three outs. We're going to lose, you know?"

I take a deep breath and sigh. "Come on, Clay!" I yell, hoping beyond hope that the little fellow up at the plate that hardly swings the bat at the ball gets a hit just so this player at first has to run to second. And more, I can tell him, "I told you so" instead of having to listen to it come from him. "We're getting a hit. Come on, babe!"

Strike one. "I really do think he's going to strike out."

Clang! A foul, strike two. But at least he made contact. "See there," I said. "He's ready to hit now."

Strike three!

"That's just what I thought. I told you he'd strike out."

"Alright, let's go get our hats and gloves," I tell him.

Boy, did that conversation get old fast. In between my encouraging our batters and my earnest desire to wring this kid's neck, the sad part was that I believed him. The bottom of our batting order is not strong. In fact, it's very weak. Like one strand of a rope trying to hold the line with a locomotive weighing down on it type of weak. And that's with missing our two weakest players who haven't made it for the last two games. We won the game on Monday - in the one game that's at another park where they use coaches to pitch instead of machines (the rest of ours are machine pitch) -- by some miracle of fate (or really good coaching, I'm still debating) , but chances are -- looking up and down our line-up and then at the teams from our park, if we don't improve drastically, dramatically, and miraculously, we won't win another game.

At the same time, winning at this age isn't everything. We have an autistic player on our team who has a difficult time focusing in the batter's box or in the field. And then we have the one kid on our team nobody else wanted because he's both the worst player in the league and a trouble-maker. Then, we didn't know as many of the kids as the other coaches did when drafting. So... while we have four or five guys that are pretty good players, in baseball, that's not enough when you bat twelve. This is a season I'm really going to have to work on my own attitude so I can exemplify Christ while our season swirls down the ol' turlet (to coin a phrase). Not sure that it helps when a cynical seven year old is telling me all his teammates are going to strike out -- and following that, they do. But I've got to try. There are so many more important things in this world, but for some reason, losing stays on my mind longer than those others. In this, I think I'm a lost cause.

Now, I'm playing the real-life role that Steve Martin acted out in Parenthood. Except, I'm fairly sure my wife's not pregnant. She better not be.


codepoke said...

What a thing of beauty. I applaud you! Hang tough, Dad.

You may be giving up games for your son, but you will receive 100-fold in this world and in the world to come.

DugALug said...


Do you have a nephew named 'Cool'? Because that would be.


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Milly said...

As the mom of one of those strikeout kids I thank you for the spirit. My son isn’t an athlete. He’s a Boy Scout, a Christian, and a very smart kid. Not a football player or a baseball player. I think it’s great that you might have the kids no other coach wanted you’ll learn and teach and at that age it’s fun and frustrating. I worked as an in home therapist for autistic children. They hold a special place in my heart. With autistic children they may start to make mistakes after getting it, if you tell them the same thing over and over again they may think they are doing it wrong. It sounds like you have a good outlook on this.

You will be Blessed by the kids and they Blessed by you.

Rich said...

Thanks, Milly. Not too sure how good my outlook is (as I do want to win pretty badly), but I do have a heart for the autistic. When I lived in Atlanta (actually Roswell, GA), a really good friend had an autistic son and I learned A TON from her and her child, and now my sister's first son has been diagnosed as PDD-NOS, in other words, autistic. I told the head coach (it's his son) that as long as he keeps bringing his son out to play, I'll keep coaching with him. Unfortunately, I think he believes this is about as far as his son can go in baseball, but at least he's keeping him social to this point. And I'd have no problem withhim playing on down the line. The parents seem to get more competitve the farther you go in Little League, but some things just matter more. Plus, if the rest of your team plays fairly well, you can overcome any one or two "weak" links.

Anyway, you're right. I am blessed by the kids. Hopefully, I can return some of that.

Milly said...

You so will Bless them.

Winning is how you play. (Man that sounds like a poster moment) :-)

Rich said...

Thanks, Millie!