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T-Ball Journal: Rubbing It In

We won our first-round playoff game a lot of runs to a little on Saturday. Noah's and my 8-and-under Dodgers were playing a team we had tied during the regular season so the result represented some progress. On the other hand, the head coach of the opposing team had apparently left early for summer vacation. And if the coach was gone that meant one of the best players (the teams I've coached have yet to face a squad where the coach's kid didn't qualify) was absent as well. I don't want to go overboard but it was goofy the guy wasn't there no matter what the excuse. How do you coach one of these teams for almost three months and then when it's time to sprint to the finish line, you're nowhere to be found?

Yikes.

In about the fourth inning I heard one of our kids ask what the score was and then repeat it loudly/incredulously/derisively. It was that special mocking tone that some kids this age so endearingly employ altogether too frequently. I promptly called the squad together and told them sternly we wouldn't be talking about the score any more, that first and foremost we are all about good sportsmanship. And the kids abided by my decree - for about a half inning.

coach_jim.jpgActually I'm reasonably confident there wasn't any "rubbing it in" going on. One of the great things about youth baseball is the fact that the teams are always separated from one another. In soccer, guys find themselves standing together with foes on the field all the time. Conversations inevitably ensue and are oftentimes less than cordial (I seem to recall just such an interaction in the final of last year's World Cup leading to the downfall of an international icon for goodness sake). In the majors, base-runners and first basemen always seem to be chatting. But even those get-togethers don't occur in the junior division (none of the fielders or the base-runners I've observed from my spot in the first-base coaching box have ever seemed inclined to converse). The moral of this story: if the kids aren't talking to each other, they aren't taunting each other.

We played well and won despite a sizable delay before the game began. Then again we might have won in part because of the delay - it enabled all of our players to squeeze in a little batting practice (and a special thanks to the assistant coach who suggested we take that course of action - up until then my distracted self was content to chat with friends while monitoring the game that was causing the delay). Playoff games must, of course, be contested until the bitter end and the contest that led up to ours went three extra innings. During the regular season there is a time limit that virtually always ensures games start no more than a few minutes late (it also results in the very occasional deadlock, like the one mentioned above). But this was the post-season and therefore our game started almost an hour late.

The 10 innings of tense T-Ball/coach pitch that resulted in a 21-20 victory for the Rangers over the White Sox (those stinking placekickers! One of them obviously missed a crucial extra point) featured all sorts of fascinating developments. The White Sox were in position to win in the eighth or ninth when the coach who was pitching was called for interference. Coach-pitchers are not allowed to say anything to batters after they release a given pitch (to prevent them from saying something like "that's a terrible pitch - don't swing"). They let you off with a warning for infractions during the season but during the playoffs the consequences are more serious. After the White Sox coach was cited, a runner who could have scored a critical run was sent back to third.

There was also a seven-run, seventh-inning rally and at least five major conferences between umpires and coaches (OK, so those weren't terribly exciting but I thought they should at least be noted). There were also all sorts of defensive plays that might be routine at higher levels of baseball, but which were extraordinary on the junior division diamond.

Then, finally, it was over and we were up. Our opponents scored a few runs in the first inning and it looked like it might be a battle but the Dodgers quickly pulled away, and pulled away, and pulled away. The result, which earned us a spot in a National League semifinal against the top-seeded Mets this coming weekend, was satisfying and the post-game spread of pizza and cupcakes tasted better.

The food was part of what became a bit of an awards ceremony for the volunteer coaches. It suffices to say that while there is a long tradition of volunteers in a variety of endeavors feeling underappreciated, that will not be a problem for the group of us who coached the Dodgers. And thereby another opportunity for me to develop at least a bit more of the cynical edge that serves so much of beachwoodreporter.com so well went by the boards.

Meanwhile, last weekend, 5-year-old Alana's (I should note at this point that she is actually 5 and 11/12ths - her much anticipated birthday is now just a few weeks away) T-ball season was meandering toward its conclusion. After an early-week practice described by one of the Red Sox assistant coaches as "the worst yet," the squad played one of its best games of the season and took a lead into the bottom half of the final inning. As had happened a couple times earlier this summer, their foes scored just enough runs to win and that was that.

Alana wasn't all that broken up about the setback. In fact, I'm not sure she noticed. In the defensive half of the final inning it was her turn to take a break and she spent her time playing with the older sister of one of her teammates. For a little while they played one of my daughter's favorite games - it's called 'let me pick you up." My daughter picked up her taller playmate a couple times and then was pleased to report on her feat of strength to various people for the next half hour or so.

I could feel for the coaches because bad practices followed by good games are always unnerving. One has to wonder why we bother when there doesn't seem to be any connection between preparation and results. But when I talked to a few of them after the contest they didn't seem concerned. They were happy the Red Sox had played well and even happier that the season is almost over. The season finale is schedule for this Sunday.

We also realized this week that none of the parents had stepped up and made arrangements for end-of-season gifts for the Red Sox coaches. My wife went ahead and sent some e-mails to get the ball rolling. That seemed like the right thing to do but a part of me noted there was a good reason not to take the trouble. With the right sort of preparation, Alana's coach might make a heck of a T-Ball Journal writer next year.

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Jim Coffman's daughter is in her first season of T-Ball. Her older brother is in his last year in the Junior Division. Coffman is chronicling his travails as coach of his son's team and observer of his daughter's initial foray into this slice of Americana. (That's Coach Jim in the mug shot at the top of the story, and Coach Jim on the mound while his team wears rally caps in the photo above.)

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