Sunday, August 29, 2010

How I Learned to Love Little League

NY Jon -- a longtime follower of this lightly-read blog -- writes:

How come you didn't do any weekly write-ups of Jalen's t-ball adventures this spring? The annual unauthorized "scouting report" on all of Jalen's teammates is one of my favorite things that you write. I don't want to live in a world where you refuse to make fun of five-year-old kids.

Back in January, my son Jalen attended Little League tryouts. Since late 2008, he'd been playing T-ball with an independently-run local outfit that was not affiliated with the Little League brand. After tryouts, I wrote an
even-handed assessment of Jalen's good-field, no-hit, National League-worthy performance. At the end of that post, I wrote:

Jalen wasn't ready for Rookies [the next "league" after T-ball] and the thought of him learning on the fly -- and possibly turning on baseball before his teenage friends eventually force him into football and basketball -- didn't appeal to me. When I called the League to let them know we wanted to keep J in T-ball for the spring season, I was told he might not be able to be "released" from Rookies. Released! They eventually relented, but...yeah.

I just hope this experience doesn't turn ME on baseball.

For the purposes of this post, I've invented the "retroactive love scale". It measures the amount of affection I had for a series of events during my son's first season of Little League. "1" is the
chorus of this song; "5" is indifference and "10" is the unattainable "purest love of all". (Me and Mrs. Bootleg peaked at an "8" back in 2001, for those of you wondering.)

February 15: Jalen finds out that he'll be playing for the Orioles after spending
the previous season on the T-ball equivalent of his favorite Major League team, the Athletics.* Upon hearing the news, he groans and asks, "Can I be a free agent?" We're off to a rip-roaring start. Retroactive Love Scale: 3

* -- Jalen love for the A's was completely organic and without any outside influence from me.

February 18: At the first practice, we find out that the coach of the team didn't even want the job. He begrudgingly volunteered when no one else stepped forward. The coach told us this -- in a dramatic exhibition of martyrdom -- at the end of practice as means of shaming the few mothers who were there when none of them jumped at the open invitation to be "team mom". And, I'll give you three guesses as to which diminutive black woman/blog target accepted the position. RLS: 2

February 25: Mrs. Bootleg was put on this earth to organize. In just a week's time, she'd coordinated the kids' jerseys (including surname personalization -- a nice touch that few other teams had), oversaw the team's banner (an extra expense that the coach couldn't be bothered with, so my wife got all of the players' parents to pitch in) and created an absurdly thorough "snack schedule" that used somewhere between 89 to 93% of Excel's capabilities. RLS: 6

March 6: Opening Day! I'd been to every practice and had grown increasingly frustrated with the coaches' lack of...coaching. The kids were given a perfunctory introduction to a small handful of fundamentals, but then the head coach would turn his attention to his ever-present Blackberry. While he worked out his thumbs, the kids spent a few minutes reinforcing repetitive bad habits to themselves before losing all interest and acting And, the excruciating results were all on display in the first game of the season.** RLS: 1

** -- Oh, don't look at me like that. I know these kids were just five and six-years-old, but when one of your players closes his eyes and swings the bat downward like a sledgehammer, the culpability is assumed by the coaches, yo.

March 16: Mrs. Bootleg and I have one of those in-public martial arguments at one of Jalen's games. No one raises their voices -- the tone is practically conversational -- but afterwards we give each other the silent treatment out of spite. Quickly recapping: Jalen was playing first base...and he was doing it wrong! Since the coaches didn't seem concerned with teaching the basics to any of the players, I graciously took the initiative and "coached" my son from the stands in an obnoxiously authoritative, yet nurturing voice. No need to assign blame after the fact, so let's just move on. RLS: -100

March 30: Jalen had a game scheduled on my birthday. By now, one of the other coaches on the team had unofficially assumed "head coach" duties and he was phenomenal with the kids. He'd already won over my son, but late in the game, the coach put Jalen behind the plate to play catcher for an inning. It seemed like it took 20 minutes to fit Jalen with the
tools of ignorance, but just as the mask was placed over his face, Jalen turned to his coach and exclaimed, "This is the greatest day of my life!" RLS: 8

April 17: As Jalen dug in at home plate before his first at-bat, he lifted his bat and pointed it towards left field. My six-year-old son was calling his shot. The other parents in attendance collectively laughed and clapped with a few even snapping pictures. Mrs. Bootleg and I, however, sat somewhere between "pride" and "mortified". OK, slightly more pride. RLS: 5.5

May 1: It was late in the game and Jalen was standing on second base. The batter lined a solid shot to centerfield. Jalen rounded third base. Have you ever heard someone recount a near-tragedy and mention that the events unfolded in slow-motion? I can still see the mischievous glint in my son's eye as he headed towards home with the opposing team's catcher standing over home plate, awaiting the throw. I remember blurting out to no one in particular, "Oh, sh*t. He's gonna run him..." But, before I could utter "over", Jalen had laid OUT the poor catcher. Here's an eerily accurate
recreation of the collision. No one was hurt, even though it sounded like a two-car crash. OK...two MINI Coopers -- or possibly a just a pair of Priuses -- but, still. RLS: 7

May 8: The Orioles were missing a coach, so I was asked to pitch to the kids in the penultimate game. Over three innings, I hit five batters while Jalen -- in consecutive at-bats -- absolutely
Charlie Brown'd me with a pair of balls hit back through the box. Hearing other parents tell their children not to be scared of me as the game wore on...pretty much made my month. RLS: 9

May 15: My mom and my grandfather made it down for Jalen's last Little League game of the season. It was the first time my grandfather -- who introduced ME to the game -- had seen his great-grandson play. That...was a good day. RLS: 10


CrazyCanuck said...

I'm surprised that you didn't show more overt pride in Jalen's Pete Rose-ing of the mini-Ray Fosse. Losing your edge, Cam?;)

The picture of Jalen in the ignorant garb was awesome. The majors needs a new Tony Pena.

And NY Jon's comments makes me wonder something. What Double-A league Kimo is tearing up these days?

that mexican guy said...

I tried to guess the song you would include in the "hate" link. I went with Mack 10's terrible "Hate in Yo Eyes" and Nas/Puff Daddy's slightly less terrible "Hate Me Now".

Totally didn't see Kelis coming. Swerve!

Also - I'd pay any price for a few pics of your pitching performance.

Christina V. said...

Well done Aaron! This really made me re-live Ethan's first season of Little League- his desire to be catcher at every possible game, the "necessity" of eye black (special trip to Big 5 for that one), and Agustin's beaning of several kids while pitching. (a favorite moment: hearing a parent in the stands (who obviously didn't know that I was the coach's wife) ask, "What's wrong with that guy?") :)

SHough610 said...

I had such a mean-spirited drill instructor of a coach when I was six (six!) that I quit baseball, glad Jalen has had a better experience (the Little League I played in was sporadically competitive and had sent a team or two to the LLWS and this coach thought he was building us up to go ourselves).

I've always been curious, before the kids start pictching are you supposed to try to get the kids out? I know you're not throwing 40 MPH heaters (I imagine the only dad who would do that is K-Rod), but what's your role as pitcher?

Aaron C. said...

@Canuck -- Kimo (a man-child who played on one of Jalen's earlier t-ball teams for those of you who don't know) can now be seen every Thursday night on Spike TV, performing under the stage name "Samoa Joe".

@Mex -- I need to check, but I don't think any pics of my Oil Can Boyd cameo exist. (Also, how dare you hate on "Hate in Yo Eyes". Cuz tha west coast is iiiiin yo mouf...!)

@Christina -- Yeah, Jalen and the eye black was a little much. He's already got a reputation for taking the games WAY too seriously. The eye black just confirms it :) And, as your husband can attest, pitching to kids is HARD. The whole time I was worried about (1) hitting them; (2) throwing too hard; (3) throwing too slow; (4) hitting them and (5) hitting them.

@Sam -- I was actually pitching to the kids on Jalen's team. The goal was to feed them as many meatballs as possible. Not as easy as John Lackey makes it look, yo.

Tom said...

Boy it's gonna suck when Jalen gets caught up in Padres fever and leaves the A's behind.

Aaron C. said...

I have no retort.