Monthly Archive for May, 2010

The Click

Along with three friends, I am coaching a Little League team of seven, eight, and nine year olds. All four of us are in our early twenties. Needless to say, we are the only coaches in the league without kids of our own. Our goal? Utter domination. Throughout the season I will keep Pitchers & Poets readers updated on the goings on surrounding the team.

There is something pleasantly meaningless about the scoring in our Little League games.  A book is kept (for the purpose of future statistical analysis, obviously), and balls, strikes and outs are counted. The runs are tallied quietly and casually. Only when a team reaches its limit of five in an inning do runs become much of an issue.

The unofficial nature of score-keeping and the fact that nobody cares that much about winning, result in an environment where results are pliable. For instance, on Saturday we played our final game of the season against the dreaded Beekeepers (ed. note: we have more games, just no more against this team). It was a stunning match-up: the base umpire* was simultaneously oblivious to on-field events and high on the scent of his own power, the kids were focused from start to finish, and only once in two hours did a pitcher walk three consecutive batters leading to a coach-pitch situation — and it was one of their guys.

*Even in Little League, umpires shouldn’t be allowed to wear sunglasses. It looks totally incongruous.

Entering the sixth inning, we had reached our two hour time limit. But the consensus was that the teams were tied at 15-15. Since ours was the last game of the day, the coaches agreed to play one last inning. This decision did lead to one moment of confusion. When asked in the dugout if they wanted to play the extra inning, the Killer Bees players were very clear in saying no, they did not want to keep on playing.  They were content to take the tie. But once reminded that we were the home team, and not just the bad guys would get to bat, the kids were ready to continue.

“Free baseball,” said one Killer Bees father, his tongue clearly in cheek. “What more can you ask for?”

We wound up allowing four runs in the top of the sixth, to fall behind 19-15. Despite getting a couple of runners on board in the bottom half, the Killer Bees were unable to score. By the time we finally shook hands, the prospect of free snack was far more enticing than that of free baseball. In the end, it was revealed by our scorekeeper that the score going into that final inning was actually 19-14. Whoever had been keeping score for the Beekeepers made the mistake of counting a runner who crossed home only to return to third base on a controversial “one base on an overthrow” call by the aforementioned base umpire.

This was not the first post-game scoreboard correction, and obviously nobody assigned it much meaning. The kids got a competitive game, in which runs were scored as a result of baseballs colliding with bats (as opposed to runs being scored because of baseballs missing the strike zone). The fact that we thought it was tied — the fact that they still cared what the score was so late in the game — was impressive in itself.

The Killer Bees faithful were on hand Saturday.

As the kids get more competitive and become more interested in baseball, rather than say digging in the dirt or dancing in the outfield, we coaches have raised our expectations.  We expect them to focus, to judge flyballs before taking off for the next base, to stand at the plate as if they are actually interested in hitting the ball. We have a steal sign. They generally follow it.  All this has contributed to another new phenomenon: as coaches, we have become a little bit competitive.

Generally this competitiveness is directed at other coaches, some of whom seem not to share our good-natured approach to the job. They might, for instance, scream a little too quickly, argue a little too frequently, gesticulate a little too wildly. Or maybe wedon’t like them because they are more interested in winning than stressing skills and fun. Either way, the temptation then becomes to stress winning ourselves, and thereby teach the villainous dads a lesson.

The other thing that has led us to think more competitive thoughts is the kids. There comes a time during every Little League season when things begin to click. This has little to do with the coaching and little to do with the talent. It has to do with age, with repetition, and with the steepness of the learning curve. For a nine year old, the mere act of playing baseball a few times a week for a few months is enough to generate huge improvements. You play enough, and eventually the muscle memory sets in.  This week, all of a sudden, it felt like all those drills caught up. The Killer Bees finally clicked.

Weekend Reading: Nothing To Do With the NBA Playoffs Edition

Haven’t done one of these in a while, but I read a lot of great stuff this week, so here goes:

  • Walkoff Walk has been absolutely killing it lately. Basically go there and read everything.  Now!
  • Dayn Perry reminds us just how good Ted Williams was.
  • Joe Posnanski reminds just how cool Robin Roberts was.
  • Vin Scully reminds us just how touched Ernie Harwell was.
  • NY Football Giants Fan Mark Weinstein the Bluenatic has written two great essays in a row:
    • The heartbreaking story of how he almost edited Josh Wilker’s Cardboard Gods book (which unfortunately is no longer outselling Sarah Palin’s memoir)
    • An eloquent and poetry-infused(!) reflection on his young daughter and how fandom is inherited/passed on.
  • ESPN the Mag is holding a sports fiction contest? Yep (pdf).  It’s in conjunction with the new-ish Stymie Mag.
  • There was a podcast yesterday. Listen up before it’s too late. Or subscribe via itunes.

    Before the Kingdome, before Safeco, there was Sick's Stadium (click for full size)

Podcast 9: Dinner Party Draft

In this episode, we discuss baseball broadcasters in the wake of Ernie Harwell’s death, determine the three types of All-Star voters, and plan our ideal baseball dinner party.

 

Right click to download the Episode 9 .mp3

Pew Pew Pew! Baseball Demonstrations from the Booth

I enjoy it when retired pitchers turned broadcasters in expensive ties grab a baseball that some intern had to scare up for them and demonstrate how to throw a cutter or a circle change. The starched cuff of a fine dress shirt, a little bling on the fingers and slow demonstrative arm gestures remind me of Little League, when the dad who was also a lawyer would pull up in his beamer and teach the kids a thing or two before heading off to the steakhouse to make deals.

My dad never worked nine-to-five, so I suppose there was something mysterious about these well-dressed, clean-shaven dads. I didn’t envy them. In fact from the beginning I thought it was tacky to put a glove on and toss it around in business clothes. It didn’t feel right. I didn’t appreciate, at the time, the tightening noose of time that each day presents.

But I digress. The reason I brought it up is because FackYouk has an awesome dramatization of an Al Leiter broadcast booth demonstration. What he is demonstrating, I have no idea. I do know that is is Magic®.

via a Reader share from WalkOffWalk

Evan Longoria is the New Joe Mauer

Evan Longoria probably just fungoed a ball to some desirous fans in the third deck.

I was lucky to sit behind home plate at last night’s Rays-Mariners game in Seattle. It was freezing. And aside from the cringing and  the averting my eyes with each successive backwards K for Milton Bradley and sad, flailing swing by Ken Griffey Jr, my evening of baseball was perfectly pleasant. This despite the fact that nobody attends Safeco Field on weeknights, and despite the fact that the Mariners committed 4 errors (2 in the first inning, when Ichiro also got picked off first base).

The reason I was lucky to sit behind home plate at last night’s game was that it offered me my first chance to watch Evan Longoria in person. I watched him play catch along the edge of the dugout with some unnamed Ray. I watched him step into the batter’s box with the same off-handedness one might step to the cashier at a grocery store, or the teller at a bank. He doesn’t have a stance, per se. He just rocks gently –never achieving any kind of stillness– and times the explosion of his swing with languid perfection. I don’t think Safeco has seen a prettier right-handed home run swing since the last days of Edgar Martinez.

Aside from the homer, Longoria walked and singled twice.  Maybe it was the crowd of 700’s fault, but his was the quietest 3-4 Hr, BB night I can remember.  It was not a quiet night for the two Rays fans — a couple, both in their mid-20s — seated about ten rows below us, so about ten rows from the field. They wore matching Longoria #3 tee-shirts. Before the game began, when Longoria was done playing catch with his nameless distant partner, he turned toward our section. The guy in the Longoria shirt stood up. Longoria threw a ball toward him — and missed (okay, so he’s not entirely Joe Mauer). Then he disappeared briefly into the Rays dugout.

Moments later, Longoria reappeared with a new baseball in hand. He stood there on the edge of the field, and stared up at the Rays fans in our section. It took a solid 2 minutes before the surrounding Safeco fans awoke the attention of theRays  fan who stood up, probably grinning. Judging from Longoria’s own grin and nod, the two made some kind of eye contact. And with admirable calm, the fan received this second baseball from his shirt-sake, yelled his thanks, and stared at it with wonder.

Then, of course, came the home run — a line drive shot into left center — and the singles and the walk. America, welcome to Evan Longoria.

A Moral Victory, Roster Notes

Along with three friends, I am coaching a Little League team of seven, eight, and nine year olds. All four of us are in our early twenties. Needless to say, we are the only coaches in the league without kids of our own. Our goal? Utter domination. Throughout the season I will keep Pitchers & Poets readers updated on the goings on surrounding the team.

It’s trendy right now to whine about the length of major league baseball games. I can assure you the people who make those complaints do not coach little league teams. If they did, they would marvel at how the Yankees and Red Sox are able to play nine entire innings in just three and a half hours. They would wonder how a game, taking into account warmups and bullpens and commercial breaks, is ever actually finished.

The Killer Bees, for example, played an epic game this weekend. It was a see-saw battle against the rival Beekeepers. It saw blood and tears (more tears). It saw real defense. It saw throws accurately made, and then caught. It saw a play at home plate (on a sacrifice fly!). It saw lead changes each half-inning. In the end, despite a late comeback, the Killer Bees found themselves down 8-7 to the Beekeepers when the game was called because we had played our allotted two hours. It was the fourth inning.

It was a tremendously exciting game in chilly, slightly drizzly weather. The parents were on the edges of their lawn chairs and bleachers. The kids were up against the fence screaming their one, extremely obnoxious cheer through the chain links.  Young John Kruk, who normally asks for the time twice every inning –aware that the game will finally end for him at three — only asked once. And I won’t lie, even the coaches were competitive. Our word of the day was not focus, or defense, or aggressiveness. Rather, it was victory. And because in Little League, the moral victory is a very real thing, the Killer Bees achieved their goal.

On that note, I’d like to take some time to introduce the team.  Coach Kenneth (an occasional PnP contributor), has compiled some stats for us as well. Here are some notes on the roster (aliases in effect, of course) and the players’ wOBA’s through 5 games. This does not include our most recent matchup, so stats are a bit on the low side, especially for Frank Thomas, who absolutely crushed a double early on, and Darin Erstad who collected some clutch runs batted in.

If you are interested in more detailed statistics, Kenneth will be happy to answer all questions in the comments.