With this Little League squad, it’s a mom-and-pop-up operation
The manager was rushing directly to practice from work, so she jogged onto the infield carrying a plastic bucket of baseballs while wearing a skirt.
‘“You can’t play baseball in a dress!” shrieked one of her players.
“Just watch me,” Claudia Chiovare said.
One of the coaches was once challenged by a player who didn’t want to wear his required protective cup.
“How are you going to know if we have it on?” he taunted.
“You’ve got to knock on it, and we’ve got to hear it,” Tracy Chiovare said.
The other coach was confronted by her own son, who openly wondered why he wasn’t playing for Dad.
“Do you know anything about baseball?” he asked.
“I was on a state championship softball team,” Jen Maljian gently informed him. “Your father never even played.”
Just watch them, indeed, three Monrovia women who will celebrate Mother’s Day while twirling around with a different sort of diamond.
In a sunflower-seed-littered example of motherhood’s increasing reach, Coaches Claudia, Tracy and Jen direct a Santa Anita Little League machine-pitch team of kids ages 5 to 8. They have seven children and three jobs between them, yet they’ve still found time this season to coach 10 boys, one girl and a whole bunch of adults about the power of Mom.
“It’s very interesting to hear a woman tell my son, ‘There’s no crying in baseball,”’ said Tim Scheidler, whose son Micaiah plays for them.
This winter, Claudia Chiovare, a former softball player, was recruited to manage a team just two weeks before opening day. No woman had run a team in this league at this level before, but officials were running out of options. Because she thought it would be good role modeling for her players — especially daughter Sofia, who is the team’s only girl — she recruited her sister-in-law Tracy Chiovare and friend Jen Maljian to bring their two eligible boys and join her as full-time coaches. She then finally agreed to manage — under one condition.
“They had to let our team be named the Dodgers,” Claudia said. “There was no way I was going through all this work to be something like the Mariners.”
She made the initial introductory calls, and through the phone she could hear the nervous sighs. Some dads just didn’t understand.
“Quietly, parents were nervous,” said Scott Powers, whose son Sutton plays for the team. “We really weren’t sure how this was going to go.”
How could it work? How could it not work? Mothers have always been their children’s 24-hour coaches. These days, more mothers are taking that job literally, guiding their children in backyards and playgrounds and wherever somebody can toss or kick or shoot a ball. Ask today’s young professional athletes, and chances are many of them first learned to play sports with their moms.
“Our son didn’t think twice about that old stereotype,” said Rafi Maljian of Micah. “It never even crossed his mind that his mother could not be his baseball coach.”
So a different sort of Dodgers was born, and, unlike their namesakes across town, these Dodgers are actually fun.
The coaches, whose ages range from 35 to 41, took the field at Arcadia’s Eisenhower Park for Saturday’s regular-season finale wearing T-shirts with “Dodgers” glittering in rhinestones across the front. On their dugout bench, scattered among the Gatorade bottles and dusty gloves, were huge designer purses and lipstick-stained Starbucks cups.
The men in the league laugh at that bench, but from the unique clutter emanates a Little League team clearly being coached with enthusiasm and empowerment. Watching one of their games is like watching an hour-long pep rally. The coaches lead the kids in chants before the game, during the game and after the game, when a ball covered in the sometimes mangled autographs of the team members is given to the star of the game.
There is applause everywhere, always, the coaches cheering all kinds of effort, any kinds of effort, from strikeouts to wild throws to dropped flies. They even applaud kids on the opposing team for good plays, and on Saturday, from her position in the third-base coaching box, Claudia Chiovare actually settled down three opponents who were arguing over an error.
“It’s weird, I guess,” said Liam Sullivan-Napoli, a Dodger who hit a grand slam Saturday. “But it’s also nice.”
There are plenty of hugs and no harangues. There is plenty of teaching without the kids knowing they are being taught.
“We’ve had men coaches before, but this is the best sporting experience my son has ever had,” said Joe Napoli, Liam’s father. “They coach in a very caring manner, a manner that helps the kids blossom.”
Underneath it all, there is toughness. The moms have three rules that they repeat to the kids throughout the game: Have fun, be safe and try your best. When those rules are broken, the kids hear about it. This is where being a mom gives them their biggest advantage
“At this age, the kids listen more to their mom than to their dads,” said Powers. “This team does not mess with these coaches.”
The kids know they do not throw a ball to a coach when she is on her knees tying a shoe or comforting a little one with a tummy ache. They know they do not go through those giant purses and pull out those wallets. As, as much as anything, they also know about secret rule No. 4.
“Secret rule No. 4 is, ‘Try to win,”’ whispered one of her players Saturday during a pregame huddle.
Indeed, the moms like to win, and even though the league won’t start keeping score until next week’s playoffs, the Dodgers have won most of their games. How do they know? How do you think they know? Claudia keeps track on a wrinkled piece of paper she keeps in her pocket. She used this method to keep score in a recent game, after which the losing coach agreed to sit in a league carnival dunk tank.
“Yeah, we won, 15-9,” said Claudia with a grin. “We’re softer, but that doesn’t mean we’re not competitive.”
The games last three innings but can be extended to four if both managers agree. The Dodgers were losing after regulation on Saturday, but the three coaches chose to end the game anyway. It was hot, the children were tired and so, to the surprise of some onlookers, they agreed to defeat and summoned everyone for a group hug.
“What can I say?” said Claudia Chiovare, smiling broadly as sweaty little children hugged her and thanked her and scampered off for a soda at the snack shack. “We’re moms.”
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