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Lessons from Little Leaguers

May 24, 2016 Leave a comment

IMG_20160416_090307It’s 8:40 on a Tuesday morning and I want to go to my kids school, pull them out of class and apologize to them. I want to apologize to them for my demeanor and attitude after our last few little league games. I want to tell them how proud I am of them and I want to tell them that sometimes their father is an idiot (a fact that they are probably already aware of).

Last night we lost our ninth straight game, this one coming against the previously winless last place team. It all but assures us of a last place finish on the season with just a game to go. Of course, anyone that knows me and my love of sports, knows how much this must bother me, especially as the manager of this team. No one wants to finish in last places and I take it personally.

So, of course, I sulked in the car on our way home and I moped around the house as the kids ate their dinner, finished homework and got ready for bed. It is the same thing I did last week when we lost 15-14 when the other team scored five runs in the bottom of the last inning and it was the same thing I did after nearly every other loss during that stretch. Our one win seems so long ago.

The reasons I feel this way are complicated. My attitude isn’t necessarily about me, but I’ll admit that a bit of my ego is involved. I see the other three teams from our town having a little more success in our combo league (multiple towns involved in a league with 26 teams) and I do turn a little green…I won’t deny it.

However, the bigger driving factor in my feelings after the games is my responsibility to these kids. Their parents have trusted their kids to me and my two coaches to teach them this game and help them become better players. At this age (9-11), the kids involved for the most part want to be there and want to play. Some may have aspirations to play in high school or beyond and some may just enjoy the game and just want to be out there. What ever their reasons for being out there, it is our responsibility as coaches to help them get better.

So, when a kid struggles to get ball in the strike zone, while I try to figure out what they are doing wrong, I am also thinking about whether or not I adequately prepared them for this situation. When a kid picks up the ball on the first baseline with the runner flying past them and becomes unsure of what to do with the ball, the only thing I can think of is how we didn’t cover that situation enough in practice. When a kid strikes out for the third time in a game, all I can think about is how we should have spent more time with the tee in practice. These are things that my coaches and I take very seriously.

However, let me get back to this morning and my revelation. As I sat here sulking, I was reminded of how in one of our games one of the kids gave up two home runs. Not the ball-got-kicked-around-the-outfield type of home runs. We are talking about the-outfielder-takes-two-steps-towards-the-fence-looks-up-and-just-watches-the-ball-go type of home runs. When I went out to check on my pitcher and ask him if he was okay, his face absolutely lit up and he said, “that was cool!”

After another loss, one of the kids came up and started telling me how he had promised his mom that he would score a run for her and she promised him Rita’s if he did. He was so excited because he had managed to get on base and score in the bottom of the last inning.

There was another boy on the team that has struggled with accuracy on his throws all season. Last night, he fielded the ball in left field and fired a strike to get the guy trying to score at home. Later on, he went on to pitch for the first time and had two strong innings.

Most of all, I realized that in all my sulking about the games, Benjamin and Matthew continued to laugh and giggle and smile. In fact, during all our losses, the whole team continued to laugh and joke in the dugout, as well as discuss who had the best play in the game and cheering on their teammates. Even in the realization that we would finish last, Benjamin turned around to me and said something along the lines of, “Well, someone has to finish last…it might as well be us.”

While I believe I put on a good face and was able to stay positive for the rest of my team on the field, it was Benjamin and Matthew that had to see the dark cloud hanging over my head. Even as they tried to cheer me up, I wallowed in it. At the end of the day, all the teaching on the field and showing them how to be good sportsmen, gets washed away when we are off the field by them seeing me sulk. Actions speak louder than words and I probably failed them in that regard.

As I sit here at my desk facing my pending layoff, there is no better time than now to learn from my kids and my baseball team about enjoying life, regardless of what hits me. These are lessons that cannot be overstated.

That’s why I can’t wait to see them tonight. To tell them they were right, I was wrong. As I sit here contemplating these games and the other misfortunes of life, staying positive and having a good attitude is so important. A game is just a game, but that laughter and smiles and attitude regardless of what happens in that game is a key to happiness in life. It’s what you do with losses and misfortunes in both games and in life that means everything and I need to let my boys know that I could not be anymore proud of them for the attitude they showed than if they had hit a championship winning home run.

A few weeks ago, a manger of another team and I were contemplating our woes this season. At that point, between the two of us, we had two wins.  As we were discussing all the little things that go wrong that lead to lost games, he had the following to say, “When we our kids are grown up and we reminisce, these inconveniences won’t be the memories.” It is such a good perspective and I think I’ll always remember that. I also hope that I always remember the year my team went 1-11 or 2-10 and my sons and team taught me a little bit about having the right attitude.

Happy Memories in the Warehouse

October 10, 2014 1 comment

20141010_010315The sun has risen and set 6,203 times since the last time the Baltimore Orioles played in an American League Championship Series game. That’s 17 years since Armando Benitez gave up that heart breaking home (with Benitez, you usually need to be more specific when talking about heartbreaks) and Robbie Alomar struck out without swinging his bat. So much water has gone under the Bay Bridge since that chilly October night, yet, with the Orioles dominant again, it seems like yesterday as the memories come flooding back.

A few weeks after that game, I asked Andrea to marry me. A few months after that, I headed to New York to take on my dream job at the Mets. Three years later, I’d get my National League Champions ring from the Mets (to this day, I know in my heart it was that choke artist Benitez that kept me from a World Series Champions ring). Eight years later I’d look into the eyes of my new born son. Ten years later, my second son was born. Fifteen years later, I’d be standing on a Little League field coaching my boys’ Tee Ball team. Seventeen years later, I sit in front of a computer with a million different memories of those days with the Birds and I go from happy to sad as the nostalgia of all of it confounds my emotions.

It’s been a long 17 years, especially in terms of being an Orioles fan.

It’s funny, when I think about those days and those Orioles, it’s really not the team or the players that stick in my mind. In fact, I need to look up details of those games, as they don’t readily come to mind. What I do remember most are the people that I worked around, for and with. Memories of victories aren’t of the team celebrating on the field, they are of celebrating with my co-workers when our jobs were done. Winning the 1996 NLDS against the Indians was awesome, but it was celebrating with my managers as they got off the bus from the airport with what seemed like the entire city of Baltimore surrounding us. I don’t remember the last out of the 1997 NLDS win against the Seattle Mariners, but I remember hugging, laughing and cheering with the other interns in the hallways of the warehouse afterwards.

When there wasn’t much to celebrate, during the long middle months of the season, there was still whiffle ball games in the warehouse halls after extra inning games, philosophical discussions about the powder eggs they served in the press lounge on early Sunday mornings and making plans for after game shenanigans in Fells Point as we waited for them to call rain outs. A baseball job is demanding and, in many ways, our coworkers were like family.

Even in losses, it’s the bittersweet moments with those people that I remember most. Even in the hours after Alomar struck out, I remember sitting in the warehouse quietly laughing between tears with these wonderful, hard working friends. Even after losing to that other damned team from New York in 1996, we still celebrated well into the early morning hours the next day, bar hopping and laughing like we had just won the World Series…We weren’t happy that we lost, and if my co-workers were like me, we cried ourselves to sleep when we did finally find a bed (that damned kid, his glove and Derek-feaking-Jeter), but we had worked so hard for 10 months and the only thing we could do was enjoy that time together when there was nothing left to worry about.

It was hard work and even longer hours (I once put in a 36 straight hour stretch without leaving the warehouse) and I am not going to pretend that all of us got along. There were tense times and moments when you just wanted to be left alone. But I think that was what was special about those times and those people. They were bonds that were forged in fire and moments that so few people could really understand. The lows of that job would go so low and the highs…well, there was just nothing like that. In between those moments were a group of people who loved baseball, loved the Orioles and, at some level, loved those moments with each other.

A very vivid memory for me was in the early morning hours after the last ALCS game in 1997 when a few of us were left hanging out in the warehouse. The stands were empty, the AL Champions were on their way back to Cleveland and we had nothing left to do except wait for the stats to transmit to MLB and do our best at finishing off the beer. The lights were turned low on the field (one of my favorite views of a baseball diamond) and most of the staff had left. Hoping to rally the city and the team before, we had thousands of “WE BELIEVE” signs printed and given out at the stadium. There was one of them on the door to reception. After we finished our beers and realized there was nothing left to do but go home, we gathered our stuff and walked out. On my way out, I ripped the “BE” from the sign so that it just read, “WE LIEVE.” We laughed about it, and went home. However, the altered sign ended up having a much deeper meaning. People started leaving the Orioles for other jobs. I left in February of 1998, and at the time, it felt like I was one of the last ones out the door. Of course, it wasn’t true…it just felt that way. A few people still work for the Orioles. However, that just seemed like the end of an era, whether or not it was a good ending, and we went our separate ways.

It was a sad way to leave and even in the great moments with the New York Mets, parts of me still wished to be celebrating with my friends in Baltimore.  When I look back at my 40 plus years, those days were among my happiest. Never in a million years would I trade my current life for those days, but those times and the people in them will forever hold a very special place in my heart. After all these years, especially in the light of the Orioles recent successes, I still feel close to them…still feel that special bond, reaching across 17 years. It’s probably been 15 years since I’ve spoken to many of them, it still feel like I am celebrating with them.

And while the New York Mets will always have a lock on my baseball heart, the Baltimore Orioles will always be so very special to me. I’m not going to pretend and say I am a huge fan of the Orioles today, but I always quietly says “O’S!” to myself whenever I hear the National Anthem. It fills my heart with joy to see them doing so well and them winning the ALCS and World Series would make me almost as happy as if the Mets won. The team and the people I worked with there will always be dear to me.

I hope that the current members of their back office staff are enjoying these times as much as we did.

Go O’s!

Anguish and Pride on the Little League Field

April 17, 2013 Leave a comment

wpid-1331352768668.jpgI’ve had some tough times as a father in the seven plus years that I’ve been on this wild journey. There have been some emotional moments for so many different reasons. However, one of the most emotional moments happened for me this past Saturday on a baseball diamond.

I am coaching Benjamin and Matthew’s coach-pitch Little League team. Matthew probably could have used another year in tee ball, but Ben was definitely ready to move up. So, we moved Matt up as well so that I could coach both of them again. Now the rules of coach-pitch are pretty simple. Every kid gets to bat in an inning with their coach pitching to them. Each kid is suppose to get seven pitches and if they don’t get a hit, they are out. That said, the coaches have an agreement to continue pitching, as long as it is reasonable, until they get a hit.

When Matthew came up for his first at-bat, he had his silly face on, giggling at me pitching to him. His early swings were wild and all over the place, except near the ball. He eventually settled in, but still missing badly. This went on for a long time. I must have thrown him 20 or so pitches and it became clear that he was pushing too hard and I had to make the very difficult decision to call him out and send him to the bench. I believe I made the right decision. There may come a time when I need to send another kid back to the bench and I can’t do that if I am not willing to send my own son back. Plus, I could sense that he was starting to press and the other team behind me was getting restless. It was a difficult decision, but one I would do again.

Well, as he walked back to the bench and took off his helmet, I could see him trying to be tough and not cry. But he was upset. Andrea went over to him and then he started crying. My heart broke like I had never felt it before. It is a moment of such anguish for me, that even thinking about it now, I want to cry. After our half inning was over and my team took the field, I went over and hugged him as he sobbed some more, but I think I may have felt worse than him. I let him sit on the bench a little longer and Andrea gave him a little food and water, while I stood on the field with my hat pulled low on my head to hide my wet eyes. Eventually, he cheered up and came back on the field with a smile, almost like nothing had happened.

The next inning, as his at-bat approached, my nerves kicked in and I felt like I couldn’t bear it again. When he did come up, we gave him a smaller bat and he seemed more determined. The sillies were gone and he looked like he was going to do everything he could to not go back to the bench. I…I was a mess and could barely pitch to him.

Before his tenth pitch, however, he managed to hit a little roller up the third base line and he was safe at first. All the parents watching erupted in cheers and were yelling congratulations to him, while I choked back tears of joy and pride (Tom Hank’s character must have never coached his kids in baseball when he said there was no crying in “League of Their Own”). I was so happy for him and I could tell he was equally happy. After the inning was over, I gave him one of the biggest hugs I could muster without crushing his little body. He simply fixed his hat and was ready to play some more.

It is amazing with kids how such a tough moment can be suddenly turned around. And, it is amazing how our kids, even at the age of six, can be so much tougher than us.

In a footnote, the next day we practiced batting in the backyard for a while and he started hitting well. When we played our second game, he came to bat and carefully lined up his feet and was determined again. In his first at bat, he hit the 10th pitch, in his second, he hit the fifth pitch and in his third at bat, he hit the first pitch…Watch out David Wright!

A New Chapter

January 29, 2011 1 comment

Today I opened a new chapter for Benjamin and I when I signed him up for Little League (t-ball to be specific).  We went over to the local middle school and entered into unchartered territory for the two of us.  However, after the five minutes that we were there, I become deeply bothered by it.

I found it incredibly upsetting when Benjamin kept hiding behind me and actually ran from the room where the registration was.  He has been shy and nervous in the past, but something was very different this time.  Usually, just a little coaxing and a smile by the new person is enough to ease him a little, but it didn’t today and I found it really upsetting.  Even after a few hour hours something bugged me about it.

At first, all those high school sports films ran through my head where the father pushes a sport on his kid with such a narrow-mindedness as to damage the relationship.  I wondered, if I translated his shyness into a resistance to wanting to play a sport I loved.

Then, I wondered if it was the shyness itself.  I am a shy person.  In grammar and high school, there were times that it really held me back.  In college and beyond, I have had to work extremely hard to keep it from controlling much of what I do.  Sometimes, it wins, but most of the time I can beat it.  But, it breaks my heart to think of Benjamin battling that same shyness his whole life.  It is something I have feared a long time…that he would inherit his papa’s shyness.  I truly worry about it.

However, after I got home, I started talking to Andrea about it and, we talked to Benjamin, as well.  I think we came up with a theory from both sides.  Through daycare and school, every authoritative figure he has met has been a woman (with the exception of me).  For him to walk into a room full of men, all staring at him, must have been a new experience for him.  While they were friendly and kind in trying to interact, they weren’t the woman he was use to, and this must have scared the crap out of him.

As for me, I think it is along the same line.  All his interactions have been with woman teachers and have been about his mental and emotional development.  Signing him up for little league was starting a new chapter for both of us.  In a way, I was presenting him to my world, to a sport I understood and depended on.  Sports are a huge part of my life and the thought that my son might not share that interest feels a bit devastating.  How will I relate to him?  How will he understand me?

Of course, this is ridiculous…He is five and it is way to early to jump to such conclusions.  And, after talking to him, we discovered that his reactions had nothing to do with the sport, itself.

After spending the bulk of the day after that, in a weird funk, we went over to the high school to watch the boys basketball game.  He took to it in a way I didn’t think he would.  He immediately started asking question from Andrea, trying to understand what was going on.  He had a keen interest in what the cheerleaders were doing (‘atta boy).  He asked me who I was rooting for and got excited when he realized we were rooting for the same guys.  And when it came to cheering, well, I don’t thing there was anyone louder in that gym and his excitement was not to be contained.

Tonight, I will sleep peacefully.