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!