Saturday, May 24, 2014
CHANNELING BILLY MARTIN
We had a tricky loss the other night. Our little league team was down 6-0 by the 3rd inning. The other team's pitcher was very good and our guys were having trouble catching up to him. Plus, he was changing speeds and at the age of 11, well, it’s just too darn difficult to re-adjust. At some points we looked sluggish and upset. It was a rough few innings, I’m not gonna lie.
In my league, we also try and work with the kids who want to try different positions to give them a shot, although, I have a policy; as much as I am nurturing and a mentor to the kids, I’m not throwing a kid out there to play 3rd base if they can’t catch. That’s just dangerous. It takes time and in a short season, sometimes you run of it. Needless to say, I have a great group of kids and most of them can play everything, including catch behind the plate.
In the 4th inning, we took the field and one of my more reliable catchers was behind the dish. No big deal, right? No… wrong. As my pitcher put it in, it was quickly fouled off and shot right for the umpire. He was smacked pretty good in the shoulder, but as Blue has told me numerous times during the season, “It’s part of the job.” I guess that night was wasn't. We all watched the whack and paused for a moment. Then, the ump took his face mask off and said with attitude, “You gotta get catchers back here that can catch!” Well... if you know me and you know how hard I worked with these kids, and how hard these kids work for me… I snapped!
“What did you say? Did you just belittle my catcher Blue?" I marched over to home plate, "Did you just say what I think you said? This isn’t High School baseball Blue, these are 11 year old kids in a developmental league! You cannot be serious!”
The field went silent. My team took a knee. The parents said nothing, I think they were stunned.
Blue stood there, now humiliated. He knew he blew it at that point, a comment he realized now he should have never made, and he was all alone. I realized something right then… I was Billy Martin on the biggest stage ever… I was protecting my boys in a war and I knew I had the field’s attention.
So… I took it further, because just like GI Joe does to get the Yankees riled up and energized… I needed to do the same… and so I did.
Blue went back to his spot, shaking his head. Still grimacing, he put his mask on, and yelled at, “Play ball”.
I jumped in quickly again, before the next pitch was thrown. I was still riled up…
“Hey Blue, did you ever play baseball at 11 years old? Do you have any idea how hard it is to catch a foul ball coming at you at 60 mph? You gotta it all figured out , don’t you Blue? I can’t believe you said that, you should be off of this field!”
“Hey! HEY!" He flipped his mask off.
"One more comment out you coach, and you’re outta here! I am sorry! It was a reactionary comment! I blew it Coach, I realized that, but now it’s over! I apologized to your catcher! We have a game to play!”
The war continued... I looked at my catcher.
“Did Blue apologize to you?” I asked my catcher.
“Yeah coach,” said my little man. At this point, there was a smirk… he knew what I was doing. I winked.
“Thank you Blue”, I walked back to my dugout.
The next 4 pitches were strikes and when we came up the plate, there was a new energy. My kids knew I had their back… and they had mine. We circled up and on 3, we yelled “RESPECT!”
The next 4 batters worked walks and had hit and stole as quickly as they could. Suddenly it was 6-4 and things were happening. My kids were smiling again. They held them in the 4th and in the top of the 5th, a kid who hasn’t really hit all year stood in the box against a real talented pitcher. “Strike one!”
“Hey, choke up! You need bat speed!” I yelled over to him. He did.
He knocked a foul down the line on the next pitch.
“OK, now choke up more, you’re close!”
A double deep to left center and he was on his way… he knocked in a big run. It was now 6-5. Things were happening. After the third out, we knew we had a job to do… hold them and then we tie it up! We did hold them, but they brought in their closer and he was intimidating. We had our best cuts, but the energy was lost. At third strike, we ended in a loss… 6-5. It didn’t matter to me, that was the most heroic effort I’d ever seen and I told them so.
As I walked back to the dugout, Blue came up to me. I looked him in the eye.
“Are we good?”
“Yeah.” He said.
“You know where I’m coming from?” I asked
“I do, and you guys had a good run. Let your boys know.” We shook hands and he stumbled away like an umpire would, mask in hand in the most thankless job ever.
“Thanks Blue” I yelled out. He waved his hand as he was walking away.
Baseball is an incredible game. For 6 innings in Little League, it’s a true battle. But in the end, you shake hands, you go about your day and you may even run into these people in town later on. But the game and people that play it are so passionate about it, that it is the reason that I believe it’s such an important game.
It’s parallel to life. At the end of the day, you need to respect each other on the field. A big hitter comes up, you respect him and maybe you pitch around him. If a catcher makes an incredible play, it’s nice to see the opposing team’s coach yell out “Nice play, Catch.” And if the umpire gives your boys a hard time, it’s nice to know that if I need to remind him how foolish he is, killing an 11 year old's confidence, that he realizes it and we move on.
I coach Little League because I love teaching kids how to play baseball. But the underlining message is respect, team work and believing in yourself. Sure, it sounds campy, but it is the greatest job in the world. I know how hard these kids work every game, and I will never allows someone to disrespect them.
Sure, I channeled Billy Martin the other night… but I think I taught my kids about backing each other up and good sportsmanship. And hey, we almost won because we came together at a critical moment...team work...having each others back, respect. It was beautiful. For me... for them… we won, despite the score.
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