Last week was the final week for Jayna’s softball season. Anton’s baseball team finished a couple weeks before that. Now what?
For much of June and July, Michelle and I were on ball fields four nights a week. Jayna had Mondays and Wednesday, Anton Tuesdays and Thursdays. Throw in some Sunday evenings for practice for Anton’s squad, along with field prep, and I logged many hours this summer watching and coaching ball.
And I loved it. It really can get long, especially when you consider that Jayna started practice at the end of March. When you think about it, kids who play spring and summer baseball or softball have a season at least as long as basketball!
Growing up in New Ulm, we never wanted baseball season to end. I was never a great player, but played out in one of New Ulm’s many suburbs, Essig (population 43), for many years. We had fun and learned a lot and played the game the right way.
This has been my philosophy in coaching Anton’s 3rd and 4th grade team the last two years; I want those boys to have the same experience I did at that age. Winning and losing was inconsequential at that age; we rejoiced in a victory, but quickly forgot a loss. I couldn’t even tell you for sure what our record was these past two years. I never wanted to tell them the score until the game was over – you should always play as if the game is on the line, both defensively and at the plate.
I really try to drill home playing the game the right way. You never throw a helmet or bat – it was not their fault that you got out. Remember, the greatest players in the major leagues get out 7/10 times. Keep your eye on the ball at the plate and in the field. Before every pitch, think about what you will do if the ball is hit to you when on defense. Before every pitch, think about what you will do if it’s a ground ball or a fly ball when you are on base. Get in front of the ball and keep it in front of you on defense; that’s better defense than making a fabulous play one out of 10 times.
These are all things I and the other coaches drilled to our players. Always learn from every inning and every at-bat. Listen to your coaches and work to get better. When the games really start to count, the cream that rises to the top in baseball is not always the most athletically gifted, but sometimes the kid who hustles on defense and knows how to take an extra base on offense. It’s the kid who hits the cutoff man instead of trying to throw it all the way home. It’s the kid who realizes he doesn’t have a play at a base and holds the ball so other runners can’t advance.
I see this in some players on each of the kids’ teams. It’s important to look beyond the kids who always seem to get big hits to see the ones who hit the ball to the right side to advance a runner to third base with less than two outs. I’m thrilled that both my kids proclaim their summer sport as their favorite, and while the big hitters are nice, I’ll be satisfied with my kids doing the little things right to contribute to the team effort. After all, a pitcher can constantly throw strikes, but if he or she doesn’t have a good defense, it doesn’t matter. Baseball and softball are the ultimate team sports.
So now what do we do? Well, at least the Twins are still playing meaningful baseball. It’s funny how most of us wrote them off in April and now get upset when they blow a lead or don’t win two out of three. The past four years, we would have just shrugged and turned off the TV. Now we are invested again since they have a chance at the playoffs. Last year the Royals and Giants showed us that all you need to do is get in the playoffs to have a chance to win it all.
This team reminds me a bit of the 1987 version that won our first World Series. There is not really a batch of stars that are recognized outside of Minnesota, but they do enough to win ball games. However, if you were paying attention back then, the 1988 version might have been more talented, but couldn’t compete with the mighty Oakland A’s. So even if the Twins don’t make a run this year, maybe 2016 will be the year!
The dog days of summer are upon us, but we still have baseball to watch, and that is always a good thing!
Word of the Week: This week’s word is tohubohu, which means chaos or confusion, as in, “The tohubohu that erupted on the field when the player got in a run-down between third and home was not helped when another runner arrived at third base.” Impress your friends and confuse your enemies!