When I coached youth baseball, the most difficult boy to coach was one whose Dad was living his life through his son. The Dad thought what he, himself, did not achieve in sports, his son would. He thought his son would go on to be a major league star. The boy would be nervous that he wasn’t meeting Dad’s expectations, and was prone to make unwarranted mistakes both at bat and on the field. Once that attitude from his Dad was ingrained in the boy’s mind, I could seldom succeed in convincing him to be his own player, not what his Dad mistakenly wanted of him.
Brad (that was not his real name) wasn’t like that. In fact I found out later that Brad’s Mom and Dad were divorced. Whenever I saw only one parent at the games, I never asked why, but Brad mentioned it one day at practice. His Mom was the only one I ever saw at our games.
I had a few rules for the parents to follow. When you sat in the stands for a game, you never mentioned your boy’s name or bragged about him. Whatever he did on the field, you could have an inner smile or grief, depending on whether he did good or bad, but you were not to express it publicly. You could tell your boy whatever you wanted to tell him when you got home. If we won the game, you shut up. If we lost, you congratulated the parents and the boys on the other team.
One rule I always stressed to our players was that if they got a good hit, or lick as we called it, there would be no showboating while running the bases. All the boys knew they would get a swift kick in the rear end if they did that, and the parents knew I meant that as well. I didn’t ask the parents’ permission either.
Brad’s Mom was a good-looking woman, but most importantly a nice lady. She was also a successful businesswoman. Over the course of two seasons, we had conversations, either at practice or before and after a game. She always struck me as a very level-headed individual, a person with a ton of common sense.
Once we chose a boy for our team, he might be with us for one season or three, depending on his age. Brad was with us for two seasons. His Mom never had trouble following my basic rules.
One thing you need to understand about my coaching is this. I never wanted my boys to hit a home run. Had my mind become misplaced somewhere? No. A home run swing messed up a kid’s timing, and caused him to take his eyes off the ball when it left the pitcher’s hand, and he struck out more than he should, because he was swinging too hard. Did our boys hit home runs? Yes—from their natural swing.
Brad had a lot of fun playing the game. He was a good ballplayer, not great, but good. He played the outfield, and was capable of coming in on a grounder, scooping it, and throwing to whatever base he should, all in one motion. Every one of our players could do that, but only three of them were accurate in their throws. On fly balls, Brad would circle in behind the ball, and start running toward the infield as he caught it, and let loose of the ball, again all in one motion. A runner on the other team trying to score from second on a grounder, or from third on a fly ball, was often surprised that the catcher had the ball and was waiting for him five feet up the third base line. They never even got to home plate to make a dramatic slide and safe call by the umpire.
Then came that one night. The pitcher on the other team had more than an adequate fastball. Brad was at bat. The pitcher let loose of one on the outside corner. Brad swung. The sweet part of the bat is regarded as the opposite side from the trademark, and up to three inches above it. The bat caught the ball two inches above the trademark, and all baseball, no stitches. When that happens the speed with which the pitcher threw the ball turns around and provides the impetus for the ball. The bat adds to the speed of the ball. The ball left the ball park about 10 mph faster than the pitcher threw it.
Brad circled the bases as he had been taught. I looked at his Mom in the stands, and she was sitting there with a slight smile, but nothing else. After the game we were milling around on the field. Brad’s Mom came up and hugged him. I thought she was going to hug me. I thought that was certainly a high point in her life, because she was so happy. People don’t often get a large number of high points in their lives.
I often lost track of “my boys” when they finished playing baseball. Now and then news would filter down. Like one of “my boys” who became a Level One Trauma Emergency Physician. Brad later became a successful businessman himself.
But it was the news that filtered down three, maybe four years after Brad finished playing baseball. His Mom committed suicide.