(Las Vegas, NV) – I became what I loathe. I was an overbearing Little League baseball coach… for one inning. For 5 innings of the game, I was fine… but I was sucked into Intense Town for 10 forgetful minutes.
Monday night, I helped coach my first ever Little League baseball game as the assistant skipper of the Paseo Verde Rookie Pirates. For years leading up to Monday’s game, I have openly ridiculed grown men who consistently loose their minds as coaches (and overly-obsessed parents) of Little Leaguers all over America.
“It’s a bunch of 8 year-olds learning to love baseball, and you’re ruining it with your over-the-top seriousness,” I’ve said time and again. “Just relax, it’s not the World Series.”
Well, last night, in my inaugural game helming a team, I went into full World Series mode. It only lasted about an inning, but it’s an inning that has me feeling like a hypocrite this morning.
Some quick background: My father was a committed Little League baseball coach throughout my childhood… meaning, he should have been committed for all of the times he lost his cool at umpires, other coaches, parents, the scoreboard operator, the concession stand attendant, and so on.
My favorite story (or most embarrassing story, I can’t decide) about my father is the time he got kicked out of a game when he was coaching me as a 12 year-old playing on a traveling team. After he was ejected from the game, Dad went out behind the right field fence and continued to scream at the home plate umpire from there. So the ump had him thrown out of the city. Let me repeat that… my dad got thrown out of an entire city because he couldn’t keep it together during a game involving 12 year-olds.
From that moment on, I made the promise that I would never be THAT guy. I was 12.
So when my brother, Rick, asked me to help him coach his 7 year-old son, Cole, I thought, “This is my chance to not be THAT guy!”
I was going to right the wrongs of my father. I was going to be a shining example to psychotic parents everywhere. I was going to put the focus on the kids, where it should be.
I failed… quite miserably, in my mind… for one inning.
And I get the feeling that there are thousands of you who know exactly what I experienced for those 10 minutes.
C’mon, admit it. You’ve felt it.
Now to be clear, I didn’t get kicked out of the city of Henderson. Heck, I don’t even think any of the parents or other coaches noticed my adrenaline levels getting too high. But I felt it. I lost focus on this whole thing being about the kids having FUN, and I zeroed in on one thing, and one thing only: WE MUST WIN THIS GAME!!!
Thankfully, it only lasted one inning. Just ten minutes.
Then I went back to enjoying all of the 6, 7 and 8 year-old boys and girls on the field discovering the beauty of baseball, the greatest game on the planet. I high-fived the pitcher on the opposing team when he made an awesome diving catch on a line drive. I fist-bumped our second baseman when he handled a bad hop off his face, stayed with the play, picked up the ball and threw a strike to first to get the runner by a half step. And I cheered our smallest player when (using a bat that is longer than he is tall) he hit a double into the right-centerfield gap.
It was pure joy, the kind of joy that only a 7 year-old can experience when he hits his first double… ever… without a coach yelling at an opposing outfielder for not making the catch.
Yogi Berra once said, “Little League baseball is a very good thing because it keeps parents off the streets.”
Amen, Yogi. Amen.