Saturday, March 03, 2007

Take Me Out To The Bawl Park

Tom Hanks may have said there was no crying in baseball in the 1992 film “A League Of Their Own,” but he, nor any other well-known source has ever said there is no crying in softball.

Today, in about 2 hours or so, I will kick off my 9th year as a softball coach for the Girls Softball Association of Franklin. I have only head-coached 3 of those seasons, the rest spent as an assistant coach with much less stress and responsibility. Practice will kick off in about 2 weeks, and with it the tears.

The prompts for those tears will be an assortment of cold weeknight practices, bad bouncing balls that collide with little faces, mounds of dirt that will provide the perfect stumbling block to a girl rounding second, and so on.

This year I will have all four of my girls playing- so four teams, 8 practices a week through mid-April, and then 8 games a week through May. A short season, but many, many hours on the field. As I look back over the previous 8 years I thought I would jot down my top 6 memories (was intended to be 5, but I couldn’t figure out which one below to cut). Hope you enjoy them.

1. Self-Inflicted Wounds. One year I coached a girl, bless her heart, that could not hit the ball if her life depended on it. She was at an age where her teammates had for the most part figured out hitting and would regularly connect with the ball, but this girl just couldn’t get it. It is almost impossible to describe her swing. I was thinking about it for awhile, and the best way I can describe it is that it was like she was chopping wood with an axe, but with some limited forward movement as she did it. Both hands on the bat, chop down as she moved the swing slightly forward, and a slight forward movement again as the bat came back up. Never a hit, never even connection. Until the last couple games of the season. The first time she clipped the ball our crowd of parents about came out of their seats with joy. The next pitch- she put the bat right on the ball. Unfortunately it was as the bat was coming up from its wood chop, and so traveled the very short distance of 6 inches to her face at a good rate of speed. The first time I have ever seen a batter hit themselves in the face with a ball. About 60 parents or so did all they could to feel bad for her injury and stifle laughter at the same time. Her next time up she did it again. And the next. Time for soccer.

2. Casey at Bat. My daughter K, two years ago when she was 11, was on a team that made it to the championship game. It was extremely tense with about 150 people watching the game- 30 or so players and coaches, a huge group of parents and family, and passersby that were pulled in by the immense crowd noise, yelling and screaming. I was an assistant coach on K’s team, and in my usual spot- 3rd base coach- as our team got up for its last at-bat. It was the 9th inning and the game was all but lost. We were behind 9 to 12 and needed 4 runs to win the game. Over the next 20 minutes we managed to get 3 girls on base, and 2 outs along the way. It was pretty much over. Then K got up to bat- it was almost too much to bear. She swung at the first two pitches, and sat out the next 3. It was right out of a movie. 2 outs, full count, 9th inning, and everyone had faces squeezed between chain link face staring at K and screaming their heads off. Michelle actually had to LEAVE because of the pressue. She walked away from the game feeling what K was feeling, right into her heart. The other team was ready to throw hats in the air and run around screaming. Then the pitch. K nailed it, and the sound was glorious. It sailed far into the air, and hit the fence a hundred and fifty feet out. It was just too far away for the outfielder to get to and throw home. K hit a grandslam, scoring 4 points and winning our championship game 13-12.

3. Finders Keepers. After a game a couple seasons ago, my daughter L was walking back from the snack stand and found a wad of cash. No one saw her find it. Without coming to us or asking anybody about it, she walked back to the stand and turned in the almost $200 stash letting them know someone lost in and where she found it. When she came back to where our family was sitting she mentioned the found money. My dad, who often comes to watch games along with my mom, automatically checked his pocket remembering he left his wallet in the car and put his cash in his pocket. He had gone to the snack stand himself minutes before. The cash wasn’t there. We were all amazed, and dad went to the snack stand to claim his money. When he came back he thanked L and gave her a reward- a $1 bill. Our whole family and a few nearby friends erupted in howls and hoots at my dad. A dollar? One lousy dollar? She just got your $200 back! C’mon man! He relented and gave her a twenty.

4. Knock out. One year I coached a young girl that struggled with hitting, but could get a good grounder in once in awhile. We worked with her repeatedly to get the stance and swing down right. She finally proved herself during a game when I was pitching to her. She nailed a line-drive, at about 30MPH or so, straight for my chest. It hit with a thud, and then I hit the ground with a thud falling back from the force and my lame attempt at dodging her best hit ever.

5. Discovery. Last year my daughter L decided she wanted to try pitching. Her first attempts were not very good at all, but she enjoyed the position. I told her that if she wanted to pitch in any games she had to practice on her own to develop control and form. She did it. We rigged a contraption using Styrofoam and a pail that allowed her to try dropping pitches right into the pail, and spend hours upon hours by herself practicing at home. By the end of the season she was one of the best pitchers in the league, and delivered strikeouts every inning she pitched.

6. Crying. In 2004 I head coached the Kid-to-Kid Kubs, a rowdy group of 7 & 8 year olds, and led them to the playoffs. The girls became very close, and loved the time they spent with each other. At our last game, eliminated one game away from the finals, we gathered outside the dugout to say goodbyes. The girls tears flowed, then the weeping began. Then the parents joined in, and finally I broke down.

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