With John involved in baseball the past few years, I had always been attending his practices and games, and wind up just sitting there watching. All the while, I had been thinking “I would do this very differently if I were in charge.” That got me to thinking that maybe I should actually just sign up to be the manager of his team this time around. There aren’t exactly a ton of people waving their hands in the air to be chosen for this. There is a lot more that goes into being the manager of the team than just drawing up the lineup cards and coming up with practice routines.
And so it happened—I was chosen to coach a team for John’s fall league. John was ecstatic, of course. In the past, every team John has joined has been an entire new cast of teammates and coaches. Some of the kids on the teams always seem to know each other from school or something, but he has never known a single other person, and just about the time they all get acquainted by the end of the year, it’s all over and the team is never to be seen again. His shyness made it difficult the first couple of years, even with me sitting close by watching every practice and game. But with me at the helm, John goes out there with quite a bit of swagger and cockiness.
As the manager of the team, I got to be involved in a draft day where we evaluated all the players and placed them on teams so things were at least somewhat even and there was no stacked team. John, of course, was automatically on my team, but the rest of the roster was put together through sort of a community snake draft, where all the coaches and administrators weighed in. I then got to choose the MLB team we wanted to be affiliated with. Of course I wanted to be the Twins in my first foray into baseball coaching. (John noted that if I am in charge again, he wants to keep changing team names. The Marlins and Brewers have been brought up as potential fits for the spring.)
I also have to coordinate and run a 90-minute practice each week. As an observer and occasional unofficial helper in past seasons, I kept thinking how the coaches oftentimes overcomplicated things. As 6-8 year-olds, I wanted to keep it to the very basics and not train for every nuance of any scenario that could unfold during a game. Know the basic premise of the game, how and where to throw a ball, how to catch, how to hit, how to run. All the thousands of other things that can happen on any given play can be covered in later years. Right now, just hammer home the basics. So that is what I am doing.
As the manager, I am also responsible for pitching to the kids during the games. I always thought it looked so easy when other coaches were doing it, but it isn’t! In the first game I hit four kids with pitches, and in the second game I threw behind several kids. I eventually asked one of the assistant coaches to take over. But now, we are using a new pitching machine for practice and games! I bought it for $100 or so, and you just manually load up one ball at a time and pull a lever and it pitches it perfectly in the exact same spot every time. The kids immediately started hitting better and it took a huge amount of pressure off of me.
For kids in coach-pitch baseball, winning is probably less important overall than just learning the game, getting better each week, and having fun. Though the kids and I certainly care about winning each game, I cannot construct the lineup card with only winning in mind. At this age, the kids have to all get the same opportunities. Everyone gets to bat in every spot in the order and play every position. Maybe towards the end of the season that will change a little, but for now it’s about fairness, mostly.
I have done a pretty decent job of fairness, but there are a few items that stick out. #1, pretty much no one wants to be the catcher, and someone has to be the catcher. #2, in order to field a respectable team defensively, you kinda have to have one of the best kids at pitcher or first base, where most of the balls are hit, yet you also have to cycle kids through so they get chances to play everywhere. #3, John is one of the older and more advanced kids on this team skill-wise, and it is a constant struggle to in putting him at prime places in the field and lineup. No one has logged more innings at a given position than John at first base so far, with 9 innings. There are dozens of kid-position arrangements that haven’t happened at all yet, so for John to be at first base so frequently will be sure to raise some eyebrows.
With exactly one month left in the season, we still have 6 games and 5 practices to go. Every Wednesday night and Saturday morning is designated for baseball. I like having something extra to occupy my time and mind and fill our schedules, and as things stand, will volunteer to do it again in the spring.