Sunday, April 22, 2012
The LL Chronicles #16: Winning, Losing & Other Big Organic Globules
Wife unhappy w/my explanation to my son on why he's not my starting pitcher in Little League tonight: "Your ERA is 24.00 vs. these guys." -- From my Twitter feed, March 29.
The Braves were our opponents on this evening and in the two games he's pitched against them, my eight-year-old son Jalen had allowed eight runs in just three innings of work. Now, I know some of you are rolling your eyes and wondering who in the world keeps stats at a Little League level for kids eight-to-ten-years-old. (And, to you I say: welcome, new readers!) But, the lone benefit to my son's hyper-competitiveness is that he GETS the game's fun-siphoning, inelastic statistical side. Here's how Jalen responded to Mrs. Bootleg's terse consternation: "No, Mom. Dad's right. 24.00 IS pretty high." Oh, don't look at me like that. It IS pretty high.
Without the pressure of starting pitching, Jalen was able to focus his early in-game attention on offense. Almost one month into the season and he still hadn't recorded a stolen base. Next to pitching, this was the aspect of playing in a higher division that Jalen was most excited about. After reaching base in the first inning, Jalen took an awkward, would-be Rickey-lead from the bag. He was trying to do this. But, he ended up looking like this. And, for some reason, he refused to take his eyes off the pitcher.
Me: [Between pitches, coaching at first base.] "Why are you staring at the pitcher, J?"
Jalen: [Still staring at pitcher.] "I'm trying to read the pitcher so I know when to steal."
Me: "You can't steal until the ball crosses home plate. There's no point in 'reading the pitcher'."
Jalen: "So...who should I read?"
It was my first time coaching the bases this season and it didn't take me long to realize how much I missed these conversations with my son. We're still in the first inning. Jalen's still at first base.
Me: "Steal on the pitch after this."
Jalen: "Can I give myself the green light and steal after THIS pitch."
Jalen: "But, I can make it!"
Me: "J, it's a 3-0 count. Let's see if the pitcher can throw a..."
Jalen: [Takes off for second base. Advances to third base on an overthrow.]
Me: "YEAH! ATT'A BOY, J!"
Son pitched in Little League tonight. 3 batters faced, 3 walks. He's seen "Major League", so he appreciated my "ball 4...ball 8" taunting. -- From Twitter, March 29.
Our team took an 11-6 lead into the final inning. It seemed like a large enough cushion and after two hours of glacially-paced baseball, most of the kids were looking ahead to postgame junk food and high-fructose faux-fruit fluids. So...I gave Jalen the ball -- with instructions to take his time and not overthrow. As I learned while standing next to him at first base a few innings earlier, Jalen wasn't in much of a listening mood. After four straight balls to the first batter -- and increasingly guttural grunts during each pitch -- I went out to the mound for a one-on-one with my son.
Eight pitches later, Jalen had walked the bases loaded.
This wasn't one of my finest moments as a father. As I stomped back out towards the mound to remove Jalen from the game, I felt more exasperation than empathy. Despite the fact that he's the youngest player on the team, Jalen is probably our best pitcher. As I stuck my hand out for the ball, Jalen looked up while mightily fighting back tears and said simply, "I didn't pitch the way that I wanted."
This also wasn't one of my finest moments as a coach. I replaced Jalen with a player named Justin who'd only pitched in one other game all season. Thanks to an interminable series of walks, hits, errors and altogether unwatchable baseball, we surrendered five runs in the inning, but held on for an 11-10 win. Justin practically collapsed in an emotional heap as he walked off the mound and I felt just as terrible for leaving him in to get pounded as I did for yanking Jalen mid-inning.
I made a point of apologizing to both of them after the game, but the parents of one of my players had sprung for postgame pizza. My contrition was lost beneath a circular sea of cheap cheese and victory.
Yesterday at baseball practice, one kid wouldn't do sliding drill. ("I don't like to get dirty.") Too young for me to order a "code red"? -- From Twitter, April 5.
During our win against the Braves, one of my players was thrown out on an attempt to steal second base. This is to say, he ran halfway to second base before inexplicably stopping to watch the catcher's throw and then was tagged out by the shortstop who casually walked about 30 feet to meet my player -- who still hadn't moved -- on the base path.
During our sliding drill, the only messages I attempted to impart were: don't worry about form -- just get low and get dirty. There are 11 kids on my team. Most of them either picked up the proper age-appropriate technique pretty quickly or had already been sliding into every damn base since tee ball (guess who?). Two of my kids, however, needed a wee bit more instruction.
Jason lined up with the other players at first base before begging out. As you might remember, he doesn't like to get dirty. Gautham, on the other hand, might've been better off using a similar excuse. He's one of those kids whose talent is lapped by his enthusiasm.
And, speaking of running...here's a Major League Baseball replica of what I'm working with. During our drill, Gautham began what I'll politely call a "gingerly slog" towards the vicinity of second base. Eventually, he came to a complete stop and simply fell on top of the bag. The dropping of my jaw was in perfect sync with the dropping of his entire body. Curiously, in certain circles, his technique could be considered quite electrifying.
Little League tomorrow vs. best team in division. My pitcher is playing 1st game after missing 6 weeks w/broken arm. This should end well. -- From Twitter, April 9.
Seeking to avenge our 11-4 loss to the Rangers earlier in the season, I sent a new pitcher to the mound. Austin had broken his arm back in mid-February and his cast came off at the end of March. In his first practice back with the team, he flashed a surprisingly strong arm. Not THIS strong, mind you, but I've been waiting eight weeks to work that reference in here. As a bonus, Austin hadn't yet let the Rangers get inside his head -- unlike the rest of my pitchers.
After the top of the first mercifully ended, Austin had surrendered five runs. Welcome to the psych ward, son.
Sadly, no storybook ending tonight. Although, watching 8-year-old Jalen bark at the 13-year-old home plate umpire was GOLD. -- From Twitter, April 10.
I've railed against the umpiring in our Little League division all season and the race continues to see whether father or son is the first one ejected from a game. On this night, the matchbook-sized strike zone gave both teams fits. Jalen took the initial squeezing silently -- if not sportingly -- by extending both arms, scowling down at the umpire from the top of the mound and shaking his head in condescending disgust. After a few more tight "ball" calls, Jalen mixed in a squeaky "Come ON!" and "That was a STRIKE!"
I pulled Jalen from the game with a half-hearted lecture on respecting the umpire's authority and adjusting to whatever strike zone he's calling that day. Of course, Jalen responded just loud enough..."But, before, YOU said the umpire was terrible, Dad!"
Despite 14-8 Little League loss, I should get credit for my head not exploding when my baserunner walked off base to pick up a live ball.. -- From Twitter, April 10.
Coach Aaron is STILL recovering from this game. On an overthrow from the opposing catcher back to the pitcher, my baserunner strolled off of second base to pick up the ball. We'd plated three runs in the inning, but he became the third out. On top of that, the ongoing horseplay in our dugout belied the results on the scoreboard. Midway through this massacre, I might've gathered the team together and reenacted several parts of this recent movie scene. I will, of course, deny it if pressured by Child Protective Services.
The proverbial last straw came towards the end of the game when one of our players was beaned in the helmet by an errant pitch. His teammates rose to his defense from the dugout. At the Major League level, this might be considered admirable. But, from children?
"We're going to remember this!"
"You better not be batting next inning!"
Ugh. We had a l-o-n-g team meeting after the game to address this nonsense.
Just learned that my Little League team's best hitter may have broken his finger. My eight-year-old son's reaction: "We're doomed." -- From Twitter, April 11.