Opening NightSeptember 14, 2004
Today was Ben's first game of fall baseball and my first experience as a Little League baseball coach. The entire experience was delightfully fun and strange, all at once. On the one hand, things were very familiar. This is Ben's fifth season (not year - there are typically two seasons in a year) of baseball, so all of us are well versed in the uniform, snack, water bottle, equipment and "Go Angels!" rituals. This season, however, everything else is new.
First, our fine town of Flower Mound recently completed a whole new set of baseball fields. Having been to a practice and game at these fields, I feel comfortable saying that minor league baseball players below AA would be envious. They feature huge dugouts, gorgeous fenced fields with lights, and covered bleachers for the parents.
Second, the kids actually pitch to each other, a first in Ben's five seasons. This is not great news for the batters or fielders (due to the inaccurate throwing arms of 9-year olds, the ball is put in play less often than you would hope), but great news for every boy (like Ben) who's ever dreamed of being a pitcher.
Third, Ben has a new, though familiar, head coach, mostly new teammates, and, for the first time, his dad is wearing a bright red Angles jersey.
Now, let me clear up a couple of misconceptions about the word coach. In my case, this does not mean I'm writing lineup cards, arguing with umpires, sending the runner from third on a deep fly, or even typing reminder emails to over-scheduled parents. It means I show up, wear the shirt, and be there for my boy.
I've helped during each season of baseball, but I never quite made it to the level of coach. Being a fairly well-adjusted, all-American community, nearly all of the fathers are involved in some fashion and with as many as 5 or 6 coaches, I often retreated to the bleachers with Lori when game time arrived.
With this year's change in coaches, there was a greater need for help, so when I was asked, I gladly accepted. (Quick note to all those seeking volunteers - a lot of people are just an ask away from serving; a face-to-face request, not a form letter or email.) So, what do I do? I go to the practices and show up 45-minutes before the game. I warm-up the players and try to limit the dugout chaos (we all have our spiritual gifts). I make sure the right kid is in the on-deck circle and tell impatient 9-year old boys to stop banging their aluminum bats on the concrete.
And I play catch with my son in the rain on a Tuesday night.
And I take a picture when he throws off of the mound for the first time in practice.
And I encourage him to play 2nd base because the throw to 1st is short and the hardest hit balls go in the opposite direction.
And when one of the kids is asked why he's not warming up and responds, "I don't have a coach!" And the head coach says, "Look around you - there's at least six coaches out here." And Ben, overhearing this, runs up to me with bright eyes and a full smile, points at me with his mitt, and says "You're my coach!"
And I'm on the field when he gets a hit in his first at-bat of the fall baseball season.