April 20, 2012 Comments Off on elmos redux
Softball season has started again. I’m only in town for half of it, and I’d assumed that my coaching days were over. Not so fast. I got a text from Coach K a couple of weeks ago–they were sorting out teams, was O playing, and did she want to be on our team again?
Last year, I volunteered to help out with rec league softball for middle schoolers. I figured they needed base coaches, umpires, that sort of thing. They needed coaches–or, really, assistant coaches. Coach K took me under her wing and we managed O’s team to a 3rd place finish in the city (they should have won). It was a well-timed couple of months of soul-enriching stuff.
I responded to her text apologetically, and explained to her that I was going to miss most of the actual playing season. Doesn’t matter, she said, we’ll find another parent to volunteer, but you should help out with the practice season, at least. Sure thing, I said, quietly pleased to get recruited. I still have no idea what I’m doing in the coaching box, but couldn’t be happier to find out that I was at least some help.
We have a lot of the same girls from last year, but the big three or four hitters have gone on to high school and/or the travel team. They’ll be missed, but we’ve got a couple of new kids, including a 7th grader who I am convinced will be the first rec leaguer to clear the fences, at least on my team. And we have the requisite rookies, who we call the “tinies.” Their greatest assets going in are going to be their frustratingly small strike zones.
It’s a good bunch. Lively more than disciplined, but that’s the right spirit. They’ve put up with our fielding drills with the understanding that we’ll then bat until all the parents have come to pick them up. And it’s hardly work. Every practice so far has had one or two episodes of genuine teamwork that warms the soul. One tiny surprised herself with a good pop-fly catch that everyone applauded, and this has given her a new, fiercer approach to defense. And there’s one kid, new to the game, who spends entire practices grinning maniacally. That’s fun enough, but she can also hit.
We were the Elmos last year–on account of our crazily red team shirts. Coach K pulled rank and got us royal blue this year, which ensures that my entire wardrobe won’t be pink after the first week of laundry. But it also means we have to come up with a new name, and this has occupied a fair amount of practice time. No one has suggested the Cookie Monsters. Yet.
June 21, 2011 Comments Off on softball party
The Elmos finished their season last week with a 7-3 record, losing in the first round of the city tournament but bravely coming back and capturing third place in the consolation game. It was a hell of a good season, if you can use that phrase for a bunch of 13-year olds, and an incredibly enjoyable thing for their assistant coach to do. There are, of course, any number of life lessons to be learned on the diamond–hit the cutoff girl, get a good leadoff on every pitch, make the pitcher work, etc., etc., but it was also a great group of kids who worked as a team most of the time. We had a couple of superstar players, both of whom knew their role and helped really lead the team–they warmed up with the quieter kids, cheered on their teammates even when they dropped easy fly balls, and laughed loudest at themselves when they screwed up.
So my coaching partner, K, didn’t want the season to end with the 3rd place game, and suggested a parent/daughter softball game to celebrate a good season. This, I thought, was an awesome idea, and not only because I haven’t had an excuse to actually play in over a year. In the lower divisions, this game is usually parents with kids. But at age 13? It’s parents versus kids, and both sides have just enough history built up that each side is definitely out for blood. K, being closer in age to the kids than to their parents, took their side, I ended up coaching the parents.
We did OK for a bunch of 30- and 40-year olds with various knee, back, and shoulder problems. The kids won, but it wasn’t the solid, soul-crushing victory we expected. The grown-ups managed some good plays, including two inside-the-park home runs and some tight defense, including a couple of little brothers who we drafted and who distinguished themselves. I managed two solid hits–one of which almost killed the girl pitching–and scored a run. All of which felt pretty good, but it was also bizarrely cheering to get beat by a team you helped coach, to see them working together just like we’d taught them, and to watch the machine that was the Sigler/Innova Elmos put it all together for one last time.
I have no idea whether I’ll coach again next year–probably not given the complexities of schedule and home life, but it was at least twice as much fun as I’d counted on when I volunteered. The season was a good time, and we had a good run, and if it’s not too cliched I learned a ton from these kids.
May 17, 2011 Comments Off on 15-0
With O on the bench with a fractured wrist, the Sigler/Innova/Signify Elmos were down a player but not down in spirit. They stared down the George White Chevrolet (hmm, don’t know if those girls have a name yet) and looked mean. Actually, they were pretty loose, whizzing balls at each other in warmup, joking around with each other, displaying a profound lack of discipline that has become their trademark. This team had beaten us last week, so coach K and I were worried.
As it turned out, we didn’t need to. Our pitching was profound. Cy Young material. Strikeouts left and right. They played tight defense. They hit the cutoff girls. And their baserunning was superb. “Go on anything,” I told them. They know now that runners on first and third means a free steal, because if the catcher throws toward second the runner can break for home. Their sliding has gotten deadly, their leadoffs daring, and they know what to do if they get caught in a pickle.
There’s a five run per inning slaughter rule, and they hit that each time. Three innings of nearly perfect hitting and running. Meanwhile, the Chevrolets struggled at the plate against pretty consistent low cheese. Our pitchers walked a couple, and gave up a single hit in the top of the fourth that broke up what might have been the only no-hitter in Ames Girls’ Softball Association history. But the defense was there to back them up, and yep, they slaughtered them. 15-0. Easily the best 6th-8th grade softball game I’ve ever seen. And the girls knew it, too. Coaching this team has been extraordinary, and at 3-1 we’re in the hunt for the city championship. Not that winning is important, of course.
But it is fun.
April 19, 2011 Comments Off on april softball
So we’re two weeks in to the softball season, and the head coach, K, and I finally got our acts together and both showed up at practice. We’ve yet to establish a firm coach/assistant coach dynamic, but considering that I might be twice K’s age, that will take a bit of doing.
Anyway. The team is great. There’s some genuine talent, and already you can tell that this is going to be a spirited bunch. They call for fly balls. They hit the cutoff girl. They run out to their positions. And they throw. Hard. For some reason I can’t imagine a boy’s little league team being this into things.
We did outfield drills yesterday with one of the college players, who spent equal time teaching the kids and teaching the coaches. They started easy–fly balls, grounders, etc.–but quickly got intense. Like this one: player sprints away from foul line. Coach throws a pop fly and calls “BALL!” Player looks over shoulder, spots ball, and tries to get camped out under it before getting a concussion. This requires exquisite body/brain interface. And it requires a coach who can throw a pop fly with pinpoint precision. One out of two ain’t bad, but at least I didn’t send anyone to the ER.
A good bunch. I think we’ll win a few games. O has been on two city championship teams, and I’m not going to go that far with my preseason predictions. And, as we all know, it’s about having FUN, not winning. (Not a single 12-year old softball player thinks that, by the way).
At any rate, I think there is nothing–nothing–better for the soul than shagging flies with a bunch of middle schoolers.
April 13, 2011 Comments Off on new career
So I did that thing that a parent should never do. I ticked the “I can volunteer” box when I turned in O’s softball registration, figuring that maybe they’d need an occasional third base umpire, pitching backstop, or case of bottled water. And then two weeks ago at the “volunteers” meeting, we were all informed who our teams would be.
OK, it’s not as big a deal as it sounded at first. I’m an assistant coach, not a head coach. But it’s still a big career move for me since I’ve, uh, never coached softball before. My mentor and the Sigler Graphics Graade 6-9 Team Coach, K, has coached softball before, she was a ‘volunteer’ last year, and seems to know what she’s doing. She’s also–I think–exactly half my age, so this is an ABC sitcom waiting to happen.
We have weekly practices for April where college and high school players come in and run both the coaches and players through some drills. I did my first one Monday, sans K, who had the flu, and it was fine–I showed up at the right field, met the five players who showed up (track meet, about which more later), and followed instructions more or less to the letter. It felt a lot like being a summer camp counselor again, which to this day is my favorite job of all time, and the kids seem like a good bunch.
Strong bunch, too. “OK, team,” I said to start things off. “Let’s go out and throw around a bit to warm up.” The girls all avoided one of their new teammates, so being the good camp counselor I told her she and I would throw around together. I lobbed an easy one at her, and she returned fire with an absolute flaming rocket. Pow. I caught it, but I’m going to be honest and admit that it hurt.
“Oh, yeah,” O said when I got home from practice and she got back from her track meet. “That’s M. She’s on the 6-9 travel team. It hurts to play catch with her.”
M is going to pitch. All the freaking time, if I have any pull with my new boss. Winning isn’t everything at this level, but it isn’t not fun, and I don’t think I could hit M’s stuff.