Our team is a contrast in size and temperament. I have a mountain-man first baseman next to a second baseman who appears to be made of leftover IKEA parts. Tough kid, though. A line drive could ca-conk him in the forehead and he would remain unfazed. In fact, he probably wouldn't even notice. Gets his stoicism from his mother (my first wife).
Our 11- and 12-year-old Pony League team plays the standard three outfielders. Told one of the other coaches we might want to go to four or five, in case one of them tries to escape. At three feet, the outfield fence is a little low for my taste. How are we supposed to pen them in with a three-foot fence? Ever see a federal prison with a three-foot fence?
One more loss, and we'll need to add a guard tower.
I have coached baseball and soccer for 20 years and never started out 1-6. In the beastly recesses of the male mind, 1-6 means everyone is mocking you, when in fact other teams are far more focused on their own little worlds than on us. I tell them 1-6 is no excuse for self-pity; 1-6 is an opportunity.
We're 1-6, and moss could grow in the dank, downward little creases in the parents' faces, though they try to put on brave fronts and make the best of every little blunder. I do detect a certain resilience. And no one is pining for my job, not even me. I submitted my resignation the other night, and they burned it in the bleachers to make a small bonfire, on one of those April evenings where the cold invades your shoes and the metal seats fill with frost.
So I can't quit, nor do I really want to. I honestly love these guys. Eleven and 12 are great ages for baseball. Most can now tie their own shoes. They are pre-hormonal, focused on nothing besides themselves. What they seem to like best is to chase and pile atop one another after games or practices, in semi-felonious monkey piles. "Love ya, man!" Whaaaaaamp! "Love ya more, man!" Thwaaaaaack!
They are freckled and silly and suburban-spoiled. The combined value of their composite bats is higher than the GDP of Austria. I think one kid drives a Maserati.
Yes, they are the little princes of suburban America, but we don't tolerate royal behavior, not on a ballfield. Rule No. 1: Look adults in the eye. Rule No. 2: Carry yourselves like champs, win or lose. Rule No. 3: No crying (which applies to moms, dads, coaches and various other hangers-on).
Our slow start has been tough on the players but even worse on the moms. Watching your kid pitch is an emotional elevator, but the mothers seem to have it worst of all, peeking through fingers at every ball that should have been a strike and every bloop single that glances off the left fielder's chin. Compared to this, childbirth must have been a breeze.
"Just throw strikes, baby!"
You should see our scorebook. Each tiny square is packed tighter than a plutonium molecule, with passed balls and booted grounders. Sometimes, we look like a dance troupe during a fall kegger. Tough game, baseball. Like life, it takes a bit of grit and grace. And if you forget to smile and have fun, that catches up with you too.
So our slow start does not define us. We're not sure what does, but we're bigger than baseball. Not by much — a pound here, a French fry there. Quitting is not an option. Because, sooner or later, everyone has a season like this. Just ask the Lakers. Or, over the last 1,000 years, the Chicago Cubs.
We're 1-6, and I mostly blame the ump, though we probably have the best umpire ever. Goes by the name of Steve (probably an alias) and he is dynamic and knowledgeable and great with the kids in the way very good seventh-grade teachers are great with kids, funny while demanding their attention and respect.
So, while we don't always agree with Steve, we are very lucky to have him. At gunpoint, I wouldn't do such work.
But I blame him anyway.
After all, the mighty A's — sponsored by a coffee shop, adored by more than a dozen fans — are only a call or two from greatness. And our long, glories spring has really just begun.