It was a rough inning. The pitcher had only recorded two outs on 40 pitches. There were four runs already, a few walks, and a hit batter. The catcher thought his job title was more of a recommendation than an actual job description, thus any runner at first base ran to second on a passed ball. After the hit batter, the pitcher, visibly shaken, asked to come out. He was on the verge of tears. Just the week before he had pitched two solid innings. This time it was only two outs. Since then, this player has reluctantly pitched when we needed him. Keep in mind that this player is only 10.
I’ve coached T-Ball and other levels of baseball development and am now coaching a team with 3rd, 4th and 5th graders. With T-Ball you had to watch for inattentiveness - grass pulling, dirt kicking, and in one instance a player who got drilled in the head when he had his back to the play (he had a helmet on). In general the kids didn’t take anything to heart because everyone gets to bat, you hit a stationary object and can only take one base at a time. In our league, the development league before “Majors” level Little League, the stakes are higher: called balls and strikes, outs at bases, three outs in an inning, the knowledge of who won and who lost, pitchers who put pressure on themselves when the defense lets them down, and umps who are frequently wrong.
This past weekend our team fell to 3-5 after two Thursday night games followed by Saturday morning games. We are now on a 4-game losing streak, and the kids continue to put enormous pressure on themselves. If our baseball season were a 1980s sitcom, there would be some take home lesson about learning to handle adversity. Maybe there is some of that with these kids. With my own son, I often have to remind him that it’s just a game, the umps are going to blow some calls and that he needs to focus on the next play. Part of my job as a coach is guide these players through whatever it is they are feeling and help them build success. The kid who doesn’t swing? I’m trying to help him develop fielding skills. Another kid who can’t hit? He’s been great at first base.
the tough season, I am amazed at the resilience and talent these kids can show - our fireballing third-grade lefty who pounds the strike zone and strikes fear into the opposing team, our
defensive wizard who can catch anything, the kid who has such command of the strike zone that he gets on base at an .800 clip (that’s real good!), our catcher and only girl on our team who stays
in when she gets hit by a foul ball, the center-fielder who caught a fly ball and doubled off a runner at first.
In our most recent loss - a Saturday blowout because our fireballing third grade lefty was unavailable threw 60 pitches on Thursday - the kids finally let loose. Led by our catcher, the whole team started to Whip and Nae Nae in the dugout. It was a good sign that they could still have fun with baseball and not take it so seriously.
As a freelancer, it’s a lesson I should heed as well. There’s no frustration that a little Whipping and Nae Naeing can’t cure.