I read a short story recently – I can’t remember where - about a klutzy dad, and one of many examples of his ineptness was when he tried to coach a Little League team without ever having played baseball.
Most people who read that part of the story probably got a big laugh. Me? I knew how the guy felt. I laughed a little, but it was laughter without much humor. I did the very same thing myself when my older son joined the first year of Little League.
How does a guy who knows next to nothing about a sport agree to coach? Guilt. The guy in the short story was shamed into it. So was I. It’s this simple. You have a kid going out for the sport. “Cool,’’ you think. “I always regretted not knowing how to play baseball.’’ At that point, you’ve invested emotionally in the system.
What’s next? The league coordinator comes to you to say your kid’s team might not be able to play because they can’t get anybody to coach. All the dads are too busy, they say. Wouldn’t it be a shame if a dozen young kids were denied the opportunity to start learning the basics of the national pastime because no father would agree to coach? Wouldn’t a deal like that be almost, well, unpatriotic? So not you’re not only guilted about not being a dad who’ll step up, you’re also feeling like a traitor to baseball – not to mention hot dogs, apple pie and even Chevrolet.
Now, this happened back in the middle 1970s, but couldn’t some of the mothers have been asked to coach? I mean, talk about sexist. Why automatically figure a guy can coach baseball while a woman can’t? Did people think knowing baseball was part of the male genetic code or something? If so, that particular gene skipped a generation in my family. The sexes are equally capable on the diamond, in my experience.
Once, in fact, I played on a media team against some Basin League all-stars in Pierre. I told my team I didn’t know how to play, but it was a charity thing. They just needed somebody to stand at first base. On the first infield hit, the second basement (a member of the media who had played at Colorado State), scooped up the ball and threw a frozen rope to first. I waved at it with the big glove. Missed it completely. A woman coaching in the first-base box behind me, reached out and snagged the ball – barehanded, I think.
But that came later. When I had my coaching experience, I didn’t know how hard it could be for a kid to catch a baseball. I found out the first day of practice. I stationed my players at random in a traditional baseball defensive formation. I figured I’d move them around during the afternoon, you know? See who was good at what. The first kid at second was kind of like my Colorado State media pal. He scooped up a bouncer and fired it to first. The kid there was sort of like me, except that the throw came at him head high. He reached out both hands about a foot apart. The ball sailed between the hands. He caught it with his nose. Practice ended, and I was still holding a handkerchief to the kid’s nose as I helped him to the front door of his house. His mother looked at me like I’d planned the whole thing.
That’s how it went all season. Some coaches taught their catchers to run to first on a hit, to back up the throw. Some coaches taught their kids to hit the cut-off man. I struggled to get my kids to run from home to first on the rare occasions when their bats accidentally got in the way of the pitched ball.
What I really remember about that season is how all those dads who were too busy to coach somehow had time to sit in the bleachers for every game. And, based on what they yelled at me, every one of them knew a lot more about baseball than I did.