In 1980, I started coaching baseball. I have put in at more than 32 spring and fall seasons since that time. For about 25 years, I coached without a son on my team. The reason I keep hanging on is because I have a son who enjoys the game.
With 15- and 16-year-olds, you have to deal with a lot of things that you didn’t deal with when they were younger. Things like metal spikes instead of rubber cleats. Girls on the outside of the fences tend to cause players minds to wander. Parents seem to have calmed down a little more, or perhaps after 32 years, I don’t worry so much about it.
It is also sometimes hard to tell if the boys are having a good time. Even though I continually remind them that if they are not having a good time; they should find something else to do.
Me? I have mellowed. A lot… My main goal is that my 14- and 15-year-old players get better, enjoy the game and be able to play for their high school teams if it is something they desire to do. This fall, I have eleven players, in the tournaments we play in; we have the option of “batting the line-up.” I do.
Everyone hits and everyone plays in the field about the same amount of time. I’m a math guy; I can figure things like that out.
The cost of running a team and traveling an hour or two every other weekend is not cheap, especially considering the way things have been going with the price of gas, food and the economy. I understand this and appreciate the parents who sacrifice their time and money to allow their sons to play ball.
Thirty-two years ago it seemed so simple. I passed out the ball caps and jerseys which were just t-shirts with a number on the back and we played. Some of the kids wore blue jeans, some of the parents sprung for baseball pants. It didn’t matter.
I jumped around a lot more and probably seemed a little more concerned with winning. I probably was.
That first season, my team didn’t lose a game. They probably don’t remember that; they were 5 and 6 years old. Why did we even keep score?
What I remembered most about that first year was a little boy named David. I handed out the uniforms at the practice before the first game. The little boys showed up on Saturday morning ready to play. As David walked up to the field for that first game, he looked a little different than the rest of the boys.
David had on blue jeans and tennis shoes with his little jersey and hat. What was different? David had torn the sleeves out of his jersey. It made sense to the little boy. After I thought about it; it made sense to me. All of David’s shirts had the sleeves torn out of them.
I just laughed and watched him.
He was a one man wrecking crew. He caught everything hit to him and hit every ball to the fence. He was a “ringer.” I never saw his parents that season; he always rode with a neighbor and never missed a game. I never saw David again after that season, but I would give anything to have that little sleeveless t-shirt with a number on it for my wall.
I will always remember my “first David.”
This fall, I was going through my roster looking at the possibilities. I prefer playing with a roster of ten players that I can count on. Letting them all bat, it’s easier to play with ten.
There was an eleventh boy that I thought was interested in playing, but I hadn’t seen him in a few weeks. He would send word by another player that he was working on the farm and couldn’t make it to practice.
His name was also David, but the 15-year-old variety in 2012.
Early on, David seemed to be very enthusiastic about playing, so I was puzzled about his missing practice. A decision had to be made. Therefore, I sent out an email noting that it would probably be best that David should consider being an “on-call” player in the event that I had a roster player who was sick or unable to make it to a game. It made sense to me; he seemed to be working a lot and although I admired that, I still had to have players I could depend on.
I heard nothing back for a day. I started feeling bad about sending out the email. I’m not very good with those kinds of things; I just don’t want to break a kid’s heart.
The next day, I got a call from David’s mother. She was very kind. She told me that David really wanted to play. It was awkward, but I am an adult and was crafting my response in my head. As I started to say, “It just seems that he has had to work the last few weekends…”
I didn’t get it all out of my mouth, thank goodness.
You see, David’s parents had told him he could only play baseball on my team if he worked to pay the fees himself. Unlike some folks, David understood that he needed to work first and earn the money up front, before he could get to his goal of getting to play ball.
David was doing just that. He was working to be able to play baseball.
Needless to say, David was in uniform for our first game this fall. I have eleven players on my official roster, not ten.
It also goes without saying, but I’ll say it. We could lose every game and I would still be happy knowing that I have a boy willing to work on a farm to make enough money to play ball on my team. He worked first and played later.
I’ve had many David’s through my years of coaching baseball. My first one taught me that kids are going to tear their sleeves out of their jerseys if they want to; this last one showed me that sometimes kids are going to tear your heart out and you’re going to enjoy every minute of it.
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