As Russ Sees It
Well, it’s that time of year again. Spring is in the air, and you can smell fresh cut grass and hear the “clink” of metal bats hitting baseballs. Yep, it’s time for youth baseball. Soon, parents will be dropping little Tommy or little Susie off at practice. Moms tend to drop off the little tykes and use the free time to run errands or maybe put their feet up for a well-deserved break. Dads, on the other hand, tend to hover around the practice field, making sure their future big leaguer is getting the proper coaching and playing opportunity. After all, little Tommy is a shortstop and a pitcher, and although he is only nine years old, he needs the appropriate amount of attention to maximize his potential.
I coached youth baseball at a couple of levels for about nine seasons. I think I have seen and heard it all. Once, while coaching batting practice, I gave little Tommy some instruction that he ignored as if he were my own kid. After practice, I commented to Tommy that he needed to try and apply the instruction he received. He looked me right in the eye and said, “My dad says I don’t have to listen to you. That I should only listen to him.” I asked little Tommy, “What do you think about that”? Little Tommy replied, “Have you ever seen my dad throw a baseball? He’s awful, but I don’t want to get in trouble.” I assured little Tommy that I would talk with his dad. I thought maybe I would ask the dad to have a chat while playing catch, just so I could see him throw. I opted for the high road and just had the chat. Another enjoyable volunteer moment was during a practice, when I had the kids hitting the ball off of a tee and a dad suggested that perhaps a better hitting drill would be to have the kids hit a ball that was “moving.” Great -- another Connie Mack on my hands.
Parents always seem to have an opinion on where their little phenom should play. “Why is my kid in right field? He needs a shot at shortstop.” Now, what this parent apparently doesn’t know is that little Tommy cannot field a groundball, catch a thrown ball, or throw the ball across the diamond. I always assumed that these three activities were somewhat important in the game of baseball.
“Bleacher coaches” are the worst. Little Tommy stepped into the batter’s box, where he had not made contact in his last 14 visits, and bleacher coach started in: “Keep your hands up! Keep your eye on the ball! Get your elbow up! Widen your stance! Bend your knees!” By the second pitch, little Tommy was so confused and filled with anxiety that he simply froze up and became a hands up, eyes straight ahead, elbow up, wide stance, bent knee statue! When the pitcher threw the ball three feet over the umpire’s head, the bleacher coach yelled out, “Good eye, Tommy!” Little Tommy’s at bat ended on a called third strike and bleacher coach mumbled loud enough for all to hear, “That wasn’t a strike!” Finally, one day little Tommy reached first base after being hit by a pitch. Coaching from third, I gave him the steal sign. Next pitch…nothing. I gave it to him again. Next pitch...nothing. Again, the steal sign. Next pitch...nothing. So I yelled across the diamond at little Tommy to steal. Next pitch…he went and then got thrown out by five feet. Bleacher coach shouted, “Well of course he’s going to get thrown out. They all knew he was going to steal!”
Youth sport parents are for the most part understanding and patient with their players and coaches. Most understand that these volunteer coaches and umpires have jobs, their own families, and that they spend countless hours during the season to try and help little Tommy have fun and learn about the beautiful game of baseball. And then there are a few that make it very difficult for anyone to have fun. To those I say, “Please watch the game from your car.”
A couple of years ago I was asked if I would be interested in coaching again. I replied, “Yes! If you have a team made up of orphans”. But…that’s just how I see it.