Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Put me in coach

My son's new tee ball coach is me. I'm not really sure how it happened. An old teammate called last week and asked if I'd be interested in helping out. My son was with a group of unplaced players in the downtown area. Without much thought I said yes.

We play a lot of catch at my house, and hit the ball across the road, and generally have fun. It's not too long before other kids from around the neighborhood are gathered around participating too. So, it can't be too much different from that, right?

That was Friday. After mulling it over a few days and nights I'm not so sure anymore. This is Tee Ball. The kids are 5-6 years old. The skill levels are all over the map, from zero to barely more than zero. Attention spans not withstanding, this will be their very first exposure to organized baseball -- America's favorite pastime.

It's not really a matter of knowing the game and building fundamentals. I know baseball like the back of my hand, having spent my entire youth playing every spring and summer.

This is coaching. This is important. Like the baseball gods of Cooperstown saw fit to entrust me with the very essence of the game: not the doing, not the greatness, not the achievement, nor the legacy. No. I'm talking about the soul of the game. That which ignites in young kids, turns to love or hatred in an instant, and burns for a lifetime.

And then... parents. Their trust is bigger than baseball or any other sport. They trust that a simple decision to sign their kids up for a fun activity like tee ball won't result in permanent scarring -- not only of precious, delicate young minds but the kind of scarring that occurs after a little bleeding. That the coach won't be a total jackass. Or that he won't hurt their kid's feelings. Or that he won't yell at them and make them cry.

I need a frame of reference, to draw from my own experiences.

My coaches were all great, from the time I started to the time I stopped playing: Mr. Clauser, Mr. Lyons, Mr. Murphy, Mr. Bradford, Mr. Blacketter, my dad, the Bloom brothers, Mr. Carpenter, Coach Vasser and Coach Church.

They all left impressions, about baseball, teaching me the game, and about the kind of men they were. Respectable human beings. Men I looked up to. A lot. They were instructors (better than my school teachers). They were motivators (better than my parents). They were cheerleaders who corrected mistakes and encouraged play-making: hitting well, fielding well and throwing well. They drove home the practice of being a good teammate and always being a good sport.

My son is thrilled beyond words. Every last relative and friend knows that his dad is his coach. I've never seen him more excited than when he found out.

The pressure is palpable for this first timer.