Posted by: johnhourihan | April 17, 2012

For youth baseball coaches


It is that time of year when youth baseball begins. I once had a revelation about this. It is now part of the initial chapter of my book, “Play Fair and Win.”
I’d like to share it with you, especially if you have taken on the mantel and decided to coach a youth baseball or softball team. If you know someone who has, please feel free to share this with him or her.

The air was chilly that morning, and so I drove instinctively to the coffee shop before going down to the fields. You see, some of us need coffee in the morning, as opposed to those who only want coffee.
It was field-repair day for the baseball league, and although some of us coaches remembered some of the other coaches when they were playing ball in the youth league instead of coaching it, we were all still there roto-tilling and raking and edging the infield and picking out rocks.
I took a break about noon to go home and get aspirin and another coffee, and when I returned I stopped and watched for awhile as the fence was being put up.
In my past, there were guys named DiOrio, and Consoletti, and Kapatoes, and Espanet. They must have done this for us, but I never realized it. Back then I just showed up on opening day and, as I remember it, there was a perfect field, and a green fence, and white lines, and music, along with a speech from some old guy. When he made jokes, most of the coaches laughed so I guessed the joke was on them.
Then I remember playing perfect baseball. I never remembered the mistakes. I know I must have walked people, and must have struck out, and must have muffed ground balls, and must have played fly balls into triples, but I do not remember them. I only remember the sharp single to right field to put the Phoenix Lions ahead by one, and striking out the side to end a game in Milford, Massachusetts. You see, only the good memories stay on in baseball, and the mistakes fade away.
As I returned to the fence going up, I thought of this morning as just a sort of ritualistic payback in the circle of life. If you play on a field as a kid, then you have to repair one when you grow old – sort of like when you are older, and no longer have children in the schools but you have to still pay taxes to support the school from which you and your children graduated.
These men had enjoyed baseball, and now, since they were grown rounder and wore hats for different reasons, and could no longer get the use from the field they would like, they were doing their best to allow some other kids to enjoy it.
It didn’t matter what the major leagues were doing on this particular day. It didn’t matter that most of these men had played their baseball in other towns or even in other states, because a few of them played right here on this field, and for the others it didn’t matter what town they were in.
Youth league diamonds are sort of islands away from the constraints of town and state lines. They are all alike, not part of any one place or time. They all look alike in your memory, so whatever field you are on, it is the one you played on.
A few kids were edging around the field, playing catch just on the other side of the fence. They weren’t watching us work, and it is good that they weren’t. I didn’t want them to know this, anymore than I had known it. You want kids to believe baseball diamonds just happen, that they spring out from under the snow in full bloom. Green grass and manicured infields, a stark white home plate and pitcher’s mound, with flat and solid base baths. You want them to believe there is always a flag flying high and a bench that doesn’t actually give you splinters.
I was asked once why we like to do this, to be coaches. It was on this same day that this same question was presented to a group of coaches who had showed up for a game none of them was going to coach. The question was,“Why don’t you guys get a life?”
Grown men hanging around at a youth league field, watching games they didn’t have to be in. I looked us over and knew the answer.
No, we weren’t here for the trophies. Most of us had our share of trophies from when we were kids, even some of us as far back in time as when you had to earn your trophies. It did look a little weird, us all standing off on the sidelines, discussing the game, rating the players, eating hot dogs and saying things like,“So what are you going to do on next year’s opening day?”.. “I’m not sure, maybe throw out the first hot dog”… ”This kid at the plate reminds me of Kruk. He can really hit the ball.”
So here I am, back sitting on a hill having my coffee and watching a group of about ten men raking, roto-tilling, edging, putting up fence posts, setting up generators and chasing squirrels out of the equipment shed. This is a happening every year in every town every in the country. After thinking it over, I realized it is a part of life that is more rewarding then 36 holes for golf, or sports seen on a barroom TV, or some other type of acceptable hobby for us grown-up people
After seven months, it will arise again from the dead.
Like a second resurrection, around Easter-time every year. It is the resurrection of the baseball diamond in town, and it has to do with a different religion.
It is the religion of baseball, and it is our job, first and foremost, as coaches to help formulate good memories for each player starting by: 1.Making it as much fun as possible for as many kids as possible. 2. Helping kids love the game as we do. 3.Helping each kid succeed at doing at least one thing new each year.

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Responses

  1. Nice!!

    • That means a lot coming from the best ballplayer I ever saw outside the major league, and only some of them are better.


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