Thursday, July 20, 2006

A coaching career ends

Saturday morning, before the Bluejay Park Picnic, my Pony League Reds will play their last game. And I will have coached my last game.

It's about time.

You remember Bull Durham -- when Kevin Costner manufactures a "rainout"?

We got one of those today, only I didn't turn on the sprinklers. God did.

But we need a rainout that lasts the length of Noah's flood: We lost our last game 20-2. This was an improvement, I think, over our last loss: 25-3. The numbers are, however, proportionate.

Our best players have quit, or are injured, or have simply disappeared. And our left fielder returned from vacation with an earring. Not even Charlie Brown had to worry about a left fielder with an earring.

But I did.

No, it's time for me to hang it up. I like baseball. I like the kids. But I don't know enough baseball to teach what these kids need to learn in order to keep playing.

Youngest Son pitched most of a 13 run inning in that 25-3 debacle. He was part of a nine run inning on Tuesday.

And yet, speaking as a neutral observer -- as neutral as I can be in the circumstances -- I swear it was not entirely his fault. Or even mostly. If a ground ball jumped into an infielder's glove in either of these last two games, he would have dropped it instead of throwing it to a base. We made more errors than the CIA did in concluding that Iraq had stockpiled weapons of mass destruction.

There was one positive development in Tuesday night's game. Because so many of our regular players were out, for one reason or another, we had to give a kid his first opportunity to pitch.

This is a big kid, a kid who's played a good first base for us most of the season. He caught a lot of games last year, but his last year's coach warned me that the kid was injured and lost for the season while catching. He broke both thumbs. We don't want kids hurt -- and his mother was fine with him playing first base. But as the defections mounted, we put him at catcher -- and he has a cannon for an arm.

Still, I didn't pitch him. He wasn't pushing for it either. But the 14 year-old All Star coach had given him some opportunities to throw batting practice, so he could get used to the idea of throwing while someone is standing at the plate. And he was starting to like the idea....

So I gave him a shot Tuesday night -- and he did well.

OK, so he gave up four runs. But he struck out the side in the first innning he pitched, walking only one (who, as kids do in our league, came around to score on a combination of wild pitches and stolen bases....)

Most importantly, the coach of the team we were playing is the freshman coach at the local high school. He asked me where this kid's parents were -- and I pointed out his mother, who comes to all the games. This other coach has now seen this kid at three positions -- and he wants him for the freshman team. And the kid is going to that school.

So I feel good about that.

But it's definitely time for me to go.

I've been a popular coach -- popular with most of the parents, that is -- because I don't try to bend the rules about playing everyone for three innings. Ours is a recreational league. Everyone is supposed to get their shot. And, for all the success my sons have enjoyed, it's the less talented kids with whom I identify. I was like them -- only not as good.

But the kids now are coming up on high school. If they want to play there, they have to play better. And (see above) I can't teach them.

At the picnic on Saturday, after our last game, I will tell them that I hope to read about their accomplishments -- in the Sports pages, sure, if it works out that way, but more imporantly in the "Schools" section in the local paper, where they publish the names of all the kids who make the honor roll.

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