I’m coaching Linus’s baseball team this year. It’s more intense than I imagined it would be, but in a good way. The league he is playing in this year is not ultra-competitive, but it does have a strong learning emphasis. The league contracts with players from the University of St. Thomas baseball program here in town to put on coaching clinics, which leads to a high overall level of coaching quality, and when you combine that with a high level of league organization and great parental involvement, it makes for a quality experience for everyone involved, at least so far.
For my part, the coaching clinics have helped a great deal. There are a number of simple fundamental things that I either forgot or never learned, even though I was a pretty decent baseball player up to the time I was 16. The clinics helped me understand how to convey those fundamentals to 7, 8 and 9 year old kids, as well as how to organize my practices. You’d be amazed how fast an hour of practice can go by.
I have two co-coaches who are 16 and 15. I think a lot of the other coaches shun coaching with a “kid”, but I enjoy it a lot, and I think the players enjoy it, too. It wouldn’t work if the co-coaches didn’t take their responsibilities seriously, but I got lucky with these two, and so far everything has been great.
I don’t have any problem kids or parents on the team, which is another lucky break. The highlight for me, other than coaching my son and seeing him not be intimidated around older kids, has been a boy named Connor. Conner is autistic, which his parents filled me in on before our first practice. I assured them it wouldn’t be a big deal at all, even though I didn’t have much firsthand experience dealing with autistic kids. I figured I would wing it, and they assured me Connor was a baseball fan who would pay attention to the best of his abilities.
Well, as it turned out, to say Connor is a “baseball fan” is somewhat of an understatement. He asks questions about the most arcane of baseball situations, which I of course enjoy. We have a constant running dialog during practice and games, covering everything from who is in the hole to where, exactly, the out-of-play barriers are given that there are no official dugouts. He’s not the best at catching, throwing or hitting, but he is capable of doing all of those things well enough to fit in and be a part of the team. Where Connor stands out is in his hitting routine. His practice swings, his process of getting into the batter’s box, and his batting stance are all already major-league quality.
As I was getting ready to pitch to him for his first at-bat the other night (it’s a coach-pitch league), he started taking his practice hacks before stepping in to the box. The kid who was playing the pitcher position on the other team said, “What the heck is he doing?” I assured him Connor knew what he was doing, even though a part of me felt a little bad about Connor being that kid whose preparation and enthusiasm out-paces his ability. I had a feeling Connor might not make contact, and all those showy practice swings would be for naught. But then Conner hit a nice chopper back up the middle on the very next pitch. That was as happy as I’ve been for a kid in a long time. Not that he needs my paternalistic pride; like I told the other kid, Connor knew what he was doing.
We don’t keep score till the last three games, but overall I was happily surprised with our performance. Man, it’s fun when kid baseball actually starts to resemble baseball. For my part, I was happy I gave the kids on our team good pitches to hit all night long. In fact, I only hit one kid with a pitch the whole night.
Unfortunately, that kid was Linus. But he shared his treat with me after the game, so I don’t think there are any hard feelings.