Living Large in Little League
When I was a kid growing up in Canada by necessity and I believe national law played hockey. My impressively mediocre hockey skill set was my childhood gift to my dad who only had to endure one weekend morning house league practice at 6am in an outdoor rink November through March. Well actually to be clear I was the one outside at the outdoor rink with my team mates while the dads were in the heated observatory deck drinking coffee and reading the paper. I guess its no more child abuse than having to wait for the school bus every weekday in minus 10 degrees in Canadian winters the rest of the week. Then one youth hockey game during the week which my parents attended to see their son captain the 4th line of misfits and we were home in time for Canadian bacon pot pie dinner. Done!
Today I have 2 boys age 8 and 11 who play baseball and between the months of March and May for my wife and I it’s a full time job. 3 games, 4 field practices and 2 batting cage sessions a week combined for the teams they play for. There are drafts. There are optional but not really optional conditioning sessions. There was the staged coup d’etat I tried to lead to rebel with other parents against the coaches on practice time that failed miserably. Now both my boys are pretty good and I actually love watching them play but all of this is Little League not some elite national program. One season of little league baseball encapsulates the entirety of how much I played and practiced my entire youth sports career. It almost makes me miss changing diapers, something my own father would not understand. But that’s another story.
Being involved in little league since my kids were each 5 I think I’ve literally seen it all. There are distinct stages of experiences watching your kids learn this sport.
This is the initial stage where little league organizers willfully prey on naïve parents new to organized sports. I registered my 5 year old kid online and checked a box that said I “may” be available to help volunteer and 10 min later get a call from the league coordinator. I am now officially head coach of the Sand Critters and first games are 3 weeks away. I have the parent meeting and some dad hands me the positions his kid will only play. I want to tell him his kid is going to be riding some pine meat, but ultimately did not because he is alarmingly bigger than I am. Then I get to first practice and realize I’m not a coach, I am an hour-long free babysitter with 10 kids armed with a bat and not quite masters of spacial proximity. No concussions on my watch is my mission statement and for safe measure I decide to wear a cup full time. The first scheduled game arrives and if games were 12 minutes long, matching a 5 year olds attention span, it would be awesome but it’s 12 minutes to get through half an inning hitting off a tee. Assigning outfield positions to kids on my team is like telling those kids there is no Santa Claus. It’s a grind but I see my kid make an out or catch a pop fly and in a moment of weakness signed up to be coach again next year.
A-ball is T-ball but with the introduction of coach pitch and 10 more additional attention span minutes. I lead the league in strikeouts of my own kids because I could not throw a strike to save my life. Kids can now be catchers and almost assuredly have to pee after I’ve finished putting on their gear. Sometimes they make it to the bathroom in time. Sometimes….
This is what I was waiting for or so I thought – keeping score and crowning a league champion. It just got real. No more participation trophies; some teams are going to secure some significant brass or cheap polymer or whatever they make trophies out of these days. At this level they let the kids pitch which is really officially sanctioned stoning of your child because no kid can throw anywhere near accurately over the plate and in practice we forget to teach what it means to turn “away” from a pitch. Sure enough 3rd pitch into the first at bat and our batter turns his head perfectly right toward the incoming baseball which tags him right below the eye to the horror or the parents in the bleachers. We cart him off and the next batter is lined up about 10 feet away from the plate, taking no chances. 5 kids get hit in game 1. The benches would have cleared in the game if it were not for the fact that the kids in the dugout are more interested in hiding each others baseball caps and making farting noises with their gloves.
AAA Ball and Majors
This is the level where the kids have dramatically surpassed my skillset and I stopped helping at practices out of legitimate fear of injuring myself. First day of practice at Majors level I tell the pitcher to fire in the throw to me at home and the impact into the glove nearly shatters my palm. From the moment the feeling returned to my hand I officially became head scorekeeper.
For all the hours hauling to practice, the tears of loosing games or striking out it’s all made up when you see your kids thrive in the moment. I had that moment when I was a kid when I scored on a breakaway to win the game and most recently my oldest son experienced it when he hit a walk off homer to win the little league championship. The only difference is I got his moment memorialized forever…
Yes for the record the voice saying “oh my god” over and over again is me and I edited out the scene at the end when all the team moms trampled over me to congratulate the kids on the win.
So continue to send my mail to the league ballpark for another month to go in the season. It will all regrettably be over soon…until travel ball starts in the summer.