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The Joys?? Of Coaching!

    "Touch her, touch her," I shouted frantically to my firstbaseman who
had just fielded an easy grounder ahead of first base two feet inside the 
baseline.
    The batter-runner was scampering to first base and it was an easy reach
for the put-out and then have plenty of time for the throw to home to get the
runner coming in from third.
    An automatic double play. But, horrors! This was not to be! Instead of
reaching out and tagging the runner, the first baseman turned to throw the 
ball to first base to her teammate scooting from second to cover that base. 
Alas she didn't get there in time and the runner was safe.
    "Home, Home!" I shouted desperately trying to salvage the situation by
at least stopping a run from scoring. The hurried throw was way off the mark 
resulting in an overthrow to the net.
    The runner at first base took advantage of the loose ball and shot for
second. Safe all around! Instead of a possible two outs and no runs we had none
out, one run scored against us, and a runner on second.
    What a let down! I had done my job as coach in giving the correct call 
but if the player didn't follow through, for whatever reason, I started to
wonder what I was there for. Might just as well shut up and be a silent 
spectator. I leaned back against the fence and watched the ensuing havoc.
Dropped flies, over-throws, bobbled grounders. I gritted my teeth and
wondered, “Hadn’t our five previous games and over a dozen practices taught
them anything? Where was the skill and prowess that they usually showed in the
past games? After all, we had a four win, one loss record in our league. Gone,
all gone! Vanished into thin air! They now played as if it was the first game
of their lives! After a demoralizing rally by the opposing team we finally got 
the third out and our team dragged themselves in for our bats.
    “Batter up," called the umpire. The first batter went to the 
plate but I remained against the fence, sulking. “You won’t listen to me 
anyway, so why should I bother. Play by yourselves.”
    The first pitch was smacked into right field for a safe single. 
"Go on, Butel, quit your sulking and do your job. The girls need you.
After all, you volunteered to coach them,” my conscience reminded me as I
reluctantly sauntered over to the coach’s box.
    “Go with the pitch,” I whispered to the runner as I flashed 
the “leave”sign to the batter. The pitcher wound up, the ball arched out 
of her hand, the runner leapt towards second base. Half way there she heard, 
“Come back, come back!”Our batter had been so tempted by the pitch 
that she had swung and had hit a foul fly ball. Fortunately for her it was 
just beyond the catcher’s reach.It could have resulted in an easy double play. 
“Why,”I asked myself? “Why did she swing? She knew the steal to second
was on! Who knows? Well, at least we were lucky. It could have been two
out.”
    I put the steal on again, this time the batter obeyed the “leave”
signal, no doubt cowed by my obvious displeasure and the realization of what 
her previous folly could have caused.
    “Strike two,” called the umpire.
    “Never mind,” I called out encouragingly. “You have another strike
left. If it’s close you’ll have to go for it.” The pitcher wound up and 
launched the ball. It rose as it approached the batter, achieving a height of 
eight feet as it crossed the plate. I cringed as I watched my batter take a
haphazard slice at it. She missed!
    “Strike three,” called the umpire. The batter, crestfallenly 
dropped her bat and started to shuffle out of thr box.
    “Run, run!” I shouted. The back catcher had not been able to catch
the high pitch and the third strike rule states that the batter could run to
first base. After what seemed to be an eternity, the batter realized why I was
getting so hyper and she took off for first, just barely beating the throw
from the catcher.
    “Didn’t you remember about the third strike rule?” I chided my runner.
    “I forgot!! I’m soreee!!!” she snapped back, rudely.
    One pitch later. Ball one. With runners at second and third, I put
the bunt signal on. The batter looked at me quizzingly, and swung for a hit.
She missed. I flashed the bunt signal again, more determinedly this time. She
stared at me blankly again with a questioning gesture of her hands.
    “The bunt is on,” shouted the third baseman as she crowded toward 
the batter.
    I was flabbergasted! Six games and fifteen practices and my girl
didn’t know the bunt signal while the oppposition had picked it up in the only
game we played against them! Quickly I switched to the hit away sign and the 
girl managed to get to first base.
    “I forgot,” she responded apologetically when I questioned her. I
shrugged resignedly  and chalked it up to fate. It was my kismet to suffer
these ironical quirks.
    Bases loaded, one down. “Tag up on a fly ball. Run on a ground
ball. Lead off after each pitch,” I loudly informed the runners.
    Crack! The batter launched a high fly into left field. “Tag up and 
then run!” I shouted out.
    The fielder faded back, back, back and snagged the ball.
    “Go,” I yelled. I looked towards third. The runner was standing 
fifteen feet off her base and had to go back to third to tag up.
    “What was she doing?!! We could have scored a run with that
sacrifice fly! Too late now, the ball is back to the pitcher.” Two out, bases
loaded. “Run on any hit!” I advised the runners. Ground ball, dribbled to the 
right of the pitcher, she grabbed it and foolishly threw it to second to get 
the force. Too late, our runner was there in time. Throw to third to get that
force. Over throw. Runner safe.
    “Hey, what’s happening? Why are there two runners at third?” The 
runner originally at third had watched all this action not realizing that she
had to get home on the hit! “Run, Run.”
    She scampered and got home safe, three grey hairs(mine) later.“What
were you doing?” I asked.
    “Nobody told me that the bases were loaded,” she alibied lamely.
    “Nobody told you,” I hit my forehead in futility. “Nobody told
you!”
    Next batter. She swings sluggishly at the pitch and missed. “She’s
using that heavy bat again! How many times do I have to tell her?” “Hey,
Susan! That bat’s too heavy for you. Get the lighter one!”
    “But, coach. I like this one.”
    “Okay, but choke up. at least.”
    Next pitch. She swings faster than before but misses again.“Time!”
I called out and went over to the batter with a lighter bat. “Use this, I 
advised. “The other bat’s too heavy.”
    Next pitch, her half-hearted swing signaled to me what she thought
of my high handed tactic. Strike three, you’re out. “I told you I couldn’t hit
with that bat.”
    The game ends with us leading 35 to 29 without taking our last 
bats. Despite all of our errors we had won! However, I was left with an
unfulfilled feeling. We had not played our best. We had not played as a team 
and there weren’t many plays that we could remember with pride.
    “Hey girls! Remember the equipment! Pack it away and carry it to
my van.” Several girls had started to wander off (same ones each time when 
this chore had to be done). Others had dug in cheerfully and willingly and the
job was done in no time at all.
    I received very little joy coaching that day, however I took 
solace in past joys. I remembered the joy of watching a sharply hit ground
ball, a home run fly through the fielders, a well-executed throw to first for
a put-out, a fly ball caught on a dead run, a well-laid bunt and a fast 
scamper to beat the throw to first, a strike-out after a 3 and 0 call, the
beaming faces of the girls who hit their first home runs or made impossible
plays through sheer dints of effort. I remembered the eagerness with which I
was greeted when I came to practices. I also remember the one girl who 
said, “Thanks for coaching us.”
    Well, one out of ten ain’t bad!