Coach Doug

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.

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9 Responses to Coach Doug

  1. David says:

    I’m coaching W & H’s baseball team this year. It’s kid pitch, and there’s always a run on the best pitchers during the draft. All the kids are graded out prior to the draft, so the teams are ostensibly pretty even at the beginning of the season. Of course, this means that coaching should really make a difference in the outcome of the season. This is not a good sign for our team. Our team lacks discipline (and I’m not much for enforcement) and needs a lot of work on the fundamentals, but all the kids are pretty decent kids and seem ot be having a lot of fun. All I ask is that they try to do their best. The outcome is immaterial. Plus, one of my kids is playing catcher this year, which is a tough position at this age. He’s really working at it and that makes me pretty proud. First scrimmage is on Saturday…

  2. Steim says:

    First tourney here is on Saturday as well. Not sure where C will play yet (I’m not coaching this team). Got the inevitable email from the coach the other day (sent to all parents) that basically said if your kid sucks, he won’t be playing very much. This is the first year this has been the case, so it’ll be interesting.
    C pitched the other night in practice. The coach’s review was “good velocity, bad form”.

  3. Jim says:

    Great story. It makes me envious that you can coach; I probably will have opportunities for that stuff, but the less organized sports scene for kids is definitely one of the downsides of living overseas. There are sports, but it will be hard to find a full team for anything but soccer, which I am really not into. Mercedes (and, sort of, Reeve) have started taking periodic tennis lessons, but I’m not qualified to be the coach. I wonder sometimes what would happen if one of my girls ended up as a great athlete–like someone who could get a college scholarship in something. It’s not terribly likely, but not impossible. We’d have to think about what happens to our own overseas life plans at that point.

    Anyway, I enjoyed this post a lot.

  4. pipelineblog says:

    One of the nice things about the age I’m coaching is that I’m not in the position of having to sit kids. It’s in the rules that all kids play, and that they play all the positions at various times. So, we’ve had nearly all of them get the catcher’s gear on so far, which they love when it’s only for an inning. And, it’s nice to not have to worry about the pitching, hurting kids’ arms, watching walk after walk. At this age, they hit, they field, they run. Boy, do they run. These kids have no concept of the stop sign at third; it’s like every kid is Enos Slaughter.

    Jim, if you’re going to live overseas you better get your soccer on. It might be your only real chance to have this experience. It’s not that bad; I hear it can be a riot!

    But seriously…thank God my kids don’t give a crap about soccer. I’d rather get kicked in the nuts every weekend than have to go watch junior soccer.

  5. David says:

    You are taking the wrong approach to soccer, Doug. Load up your favorite lawn chair, your ipod, and a good book… Soccer’s like a mini-vacation.

    As for the baseball, we’ve got similar rules (max. 3 innings at any one position, minimum of 1 inning in the OF/IF for all kids, no one sits more than 1 inning). Usually, we use 4 pitchers a game. That’s the great thing about youth baseball… it’s the ultimate team sport. Even if the other team has a dominant player, he’s only going to pitch half the game, at most. Plus, how many runs can on kid score on his/her own? I’ve watched enough youth hockey, soccer, basketball, and football to see that the winning teams usually have one very dominant player. That’s just not going to fly in baseball. The championship team last year had no dominant players, but no weak players either. Everybody needs to contribute.

  6. DaveKingston says:

    I gotta defend the soccer route. They don’t teach youth soccer today like they did when we were kids. It’s not just 20 kids in a ball of dust and two goalies.

    They split the kids into 3 v 3 teams and emphasize passing and dribbling skills. Not real soccer, but entertaining. Once they get to 7 or 8 they start to learn strategy and tactics and that’s when it gets fun.

    Soccer gets such a bad rap. It’s a vert tactical and fast game.

  7. blaze says:

    Coaching stories gotta love them, I expect weekly summary reports and of course full statistics from Doug.

  8. pipelineblog says:

    I’m not the soccer hater my above comment would lead one to believe. I understand its appeal, and I’ve watched a number of World Cup games that I enjoyed. But I’d take baseball or basketball as a youth sport any day over soccer; it’s just personal preference based on what I grew up playing, and what I enjoy watching as a spectator.

  9. kelly says:

    But are you teaching them to spit and scratch?

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