FROM THE NEWS-LEDGER — MARCH 5, 2014 —
Note: For the past few weeks I’ve been going over to a little hidden-away baseball diamond at Southport Elementary School to watch two of my grandsons practice with their teammates for their upcoming West Sacramento Little League season. Their team, called the Raptors, is being coached by my son-in-law and oldest son, which should turn out to be a hoot in itself, and watching them work really hard to get the Raptors all squared away for Opening Day suddenly reminded of the following column, which was penned almost 20 years ago:
The coming of spring in the Sacramento Valley means different things to different people. To the sun worshiper, it means that endless months of depressing rain and white skin are almost over; to allergy-sufferers, it means it’s time to start sneezing and blowing your nose again; to the lover of gardening, it’s time to prepare the soil for all that glorious plant growth that is just around the corner; and to the local parent of young boys, it’s time to try and find a way out of being their Little League baseball manager or coach.
This year, however, my youngest son, Kyle, has talked me into signing up to manage his pee-wee baseball team (the Reds) in the West Sacramento Little League. His argument was simple and effective. Since I had managed his older brother’s pee-wee teams, I owed him.
“If you’re the manager, Dad,” he said with deep conviction, “I’ll get to be the pitcher!”
“But it doesn’t exactly work that way, Kyle,” I tried to explain. “Plus in pee-wees, there is no pitcher. Everyone hits off of a tee.”
“Right,” said my son, obviously starting to question just what kind of manager I was going to be if I didn’t even know that you need a pitcher to play baseball.
“Kyle,” I said, “to tell you the truth, I’m a little burned out on Little League baseball coaching. Maybe you could wait another year? You’re only six, you know.”
“But Dad,” he said with his most pathetic voice, “that’s what you said last year.” Then he looked up at me with those big brown eyes of his and a facial expression that left no doubt he was thinking those awful words which all parents fear: “You love my brothers (or sisters) more than me!”
So, once again, it was time to break out the fluff balls and undersized mitts and prepare my ears for that awful aluminum “clink” of the bat. Thankfully, by the time I had called all twelve of the Reds and told them about their first practice, I was beginning to feel some of the old fun and excitement which pee-wee baseball brings out in almost everyone who participates. And with all the phone calls completed, I sat back for a few minutes and tried to remember some of the things required of a successful pee-wee manager.
First, you have to be really good at tying double-knots. Pee-wees are, for the most part, six and seven year olds, and almost all of them will show up for every practice (and the majority of their games) with at least one shoe untied.
Second, you have to be great at finding things. Pee-wees lose their hats, their bats, their gloves, their snack-bar money, and even their parents from time to time.
Third, you have to be able to anticipate potty breaks. This can usually be done by noticing how the players on my team are standing. If they are squirming, holding their legs tightly together, and making funny faces, you need to get them over to the bathroom ASAP!
Fourth, you have to be accomplished at being able to talk some sweet, unsuspecting soul into being the team mother. She is the person who has to, among many other things, organize the team float for the Opening Day parade, get other busy mothers to work in the snack bar, and collect all the money from the candy sale. This person always ends up being a saint in my eyes.
Fifth, you have to be able to quickly establish a set of often-repeated rules, the most important being that only one pee-wee at a time (the hitter) can have a bat in his or her hands. There is simply nothing quite as frightening as watching five or six eager young pee-wees with baseball bats in their hands warming up for batting practice in the same area at the same time.
Sixth, you have to be able to cheerfully accept the fact that the attention span for a perfectly normal pee-wee is approximately 30 seconds, and on warm, sunny afternoons with interesting-looking puffy white clouds floating above them, even that number drops dramatically.
Seventh, you have to have energetic adult base coaches with loud and distinctive voices. Pee-wees love to get on base and race around the diamond, but they’re not always sure just when to take off or what direction to go. A good base coach can get them pretty skilled at running to first base instead of third when they hit the ball, but only a great one can organize things from that point on.
And finally, and maybe most important of all, you have to be able to make all the team’s parents and grandparents truly believe that pee-wee baseball isn’t the big show, and that it’s not about winning and losing, but rather riding around in a homemade float on Opening Day, free after-the-game popcorn and snow cones from the snack bar, pizza parties with teammates, good sportsmanship, and learning to love the game.
“Dad,” said my six-year old son as he wound himself up in front of me in his new Reds baseball jersey and released his best imaginary fastball, “you know what?”
“The Reds are going to kick butt!”
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