Much to the chagrin of parents all over my small town, I have been installed as the dark overlord and all seeing despot who is currently reigning over their unwitting children. Translation: I am coaching T-ball.
T-ball is baseball for little kids. You put the baseball on a big rubber tee, and they hit it and run, and hilarity ensues. If you have never seen 6 year olds play baseball, it is really a sight to see. Imagine you live in an apartment infested by cockroaches. You come home from a long days work, so long in fact, that it is now dark outside. You enter your home, and flick on the light. And what happens? The roaches, startled by the light, scatter in every direction, trying to find a place to hide.
This is, in essence, what happens at a T-ball game. When the ball is hit, it usually rolls about 10 feet down towards third base. At which point, of the 11 kids on the field, 9 of them converge on the ball. And when one finally does manage to pick it up, they turn, and look at you, because they have no idea what the hell to do with it.
So you implore them, "Throw it to first! To first base!" They look at you as if you are speaking Aramaic. It is right then that you realize, there is a slight chance that these kids might not know what they are doing.
But it's all in good fun. I have a bunch of good kids. A few of them actually know what a baseball is. Coaching T-ball requires extreme patience. Not really my strong suit. But I manage. To see these kids having fun and laughing and trying their best is actually quite fulfilling.
But I'm not coaching for my own fulfillment. I'm here to win. Anything less than a championship is utter failure. The only kink in my plan: We don't keep score, and nobody wins... EVER. But that meaningless fact doesn't hinder me. I give them the old Lomabardi speech, that failure is not an option. That they can rest when they are dead. That the only thing that matters is winning. Fortunately, while I was giving this speech, all of them were either A) digging in the dirt, B) trying to get their mother's attention, or C) were watching the airplane flying overhead. So my words went unappreciated.
At the end of practice, we have them line up and run around the bases. They have to touch every base, and then give us a high five as the cross home plate. One boy, Noah, who is extremely shy and wonderfully innocent (and also a helluva baseball player), missed third base on his way home. I yelled to him, "You missed third! You have to touch third!"
This precipitated my learning the first rule of coaching: Know your players. Noah, as I said, is very shy. I think he's an only child, and has trouble making friends. Little boys who are shy are also usually hyper-sensitive. My playful cajoling with him went completely awry. There he stood, halfway between third and home, bawling his eyes out. He thought I was yelling at him. Of course I wasn't. But how could he know that? To him, some guy whom he just met was publicly chastising him for making a mistake. And he was not happy about it, and reacted the only way he knew how. I was heartbroken. I tried to console him, but he was (rightfully?) scared of me now. He ran to his mother, and she gave me the "It's okay," look. I plan on making it up to him at practice on Sunday, but I'm not yet sure how.
Until then, I have to take solace in knowing that one kid likes me. Well, two. My niece Kaileen is on the team, and she is contractually obligated to like. But there is this little girl, Katie. She is a doll. I'm not sure she wants to play baseball, but she does, and she tries so hard and gives more effort than any other kid out there.
You see, Katie has Down Syndrome. And despite that, she makes every effort to be normal and do everything a kid her age should do. As well she should. And I love her. She has a helper on the field, who directs her and tells her what to do and when to do it. And she is out on the field, with the biggest smile you have ever seen, loving every minute of it. When it was her turn to run the bases, she took off like a bullet. She missed every base, and tripped a few times, but I've never seen someone have so much fun just to be somewhere. When she crossed the plate, she gave me the biggest high five she possibly could, almost breaking her little arm she slapped my hand so hard. And after, she gave me a big hug, and thanked me. I wasn't sure what for, but I was more than willing to accept it. She is my new favorite baseball player.
To be honest, I almost cried when she thanked me.
I can imagine that this baseball season is going to be more rewarding than any other I've participated in, ever. Because these kids just want to have fun. And I'm all about fun. And I know that eventually, there will come a time when one of them will throw me the ball, and it will hit me in the crotch. And we will all have a good laugh about it.
And it will be the first time that I got hit in the balls and the words "mother" or "fucker" will not have come out my mouth.