First of all, "Good Morning!" to Cardinal Couple readers! My name is David Watson and I'll be guest hosting the site for a couple of days while Paul and Sonja take a few days off. Paul needs it. I talked to him last night to see what exactly he wanted me to cover for you readers as he was at a Louisville area Catholic picnic and he started out by telling me that he had won a cake at the cake wheel on his first dime. He also then told me it was the best thing that had happened to him all week.
"I've got one coach ready to beat me up, one that wants more coverage for her sport, my sinuses have kicked into full bloom, my next door neighbors haven't cut their grass in a month and I'm sitting on two stories I'd could run but can't and won't. I've been dealing with two idiots from Lexington who keep sending me disgusting, photo-shopped pictures and nasty comments about a particular UofL men's coach. I'm missing a buddy's third wedding Saturday and I'm full of food and sleepy. You write about whatever in the heck you want to, David. CARDINAL COUPLE is yours for the next couple of days. I might just give the whole damn site to you." he told me while, in the background, the sounds of picnic goers and clicking of gaming wheels roared.
So, let's talk baseball.
I didn't originally plan on being a little league coach. My son wanted to play, though and came home from his first practice and told me that the team needed base coaches. He asked me if I would be one. No problem, I figured. Stand there and tell a youngster to run or not run sounded pretty easy. I accompanied him to his next practice and offered my services. Another dad showed up also. The head coach, Charlie, was beaming from ear-to-ear. He asked me to hit fly balls to the kids who played outfield. Taken aback a bit, I started to explain that I was here to stand by either first or third and give instructions. The words never got out of my mouth. He pointed to a pile of bats by the dugout and a bag of baseballs.
"Go get 'em, David!" he exhorted. I went and got 'em.
Not having swung a bat in 20 years, I was a little rusty. The first several attempts had me hitting weak grounders that stopped before they reached the kids standing in the outfield. Finally, I lofted one. Three kids converged on it, all three missed it and then started shoving each other in a dispute over whose ball it was.
"You guys need to call it!" I heard Charlie yell from the sidelines, where he was catching tosses from a pitcher.
"Yeah, call it!" I echoed. I heard the response from the outfield.
"Why don't you hit it to us, then?"
I had no reply. It eventually got better. After nightly treatments of Ben-Gay and ice packs to my left shoulder and strong gin and tonics, I was coming around. I was learning the baseball lingo/chatter and the kids had affectionately named me "Big Stork." My son was turning into a pretty good first baseman who was hitting the ball well and my outfielders weren't running into each other anymore or throwing rocks at each other. Charlie was micro-managing everything that crossed his path and was having long strategy meetings with me and Phil (the other coach) after practice on such detailed topics on player positions, batting order, practice sequence and morale. Our first game was approaching and I found myself a bit nervous. Did Tony LaRussa get his start this way?
We showed up to the sports complex a couple of hours early on our first game. My son Robbie couldn't find him glove before we left, which rapidly deployed into a panicked, heated search before it was discovered in our beagle Bonzo's doghouse. A few teeth marks but nothing serious. Charlie showed up with the team's t-shirts. Our nickname- THE TERMINATORS-on the front of the jersey and a number on the back, along with the name of our sponsor-a local auto dealership. My jersey had no number on the back, just COACH, and was two sizes too big for me.
We finally took the field after an extensive pitch-and-catch warm up out in the football field. We were designated the "home" team and would take the field first. Charlie announced the starting lineups and posted the sheet on the wall in the dugout. Nine young boys trotted out to their respective positions and six glumly went to the bench. We reminded them that everybody plays and not to be discouraged or mad.
That first inning was magical. Our pitcher, Bryce, struck out the first two batters he faced. The third kid lofted a fly ball to left field. This was the moment of truth. Would my hard work as the outfield coach, those long hours of practice fly balls and encouragement pay off? My left fielder Cassidy loudly called "I got it!" and the ball plopped safely into his glove. I was bursting at the seams. Mission accomplished.
It was our turn to bat. By extensive pre-arrangement and discussion, I was assigned to coach third base. I trotted out of the dugout to assume the role and Cassidy ran past me on his way to the dugout and tossed me a "high five". Yes, sir. Taught him every thing he knows.
Our game turned into a pitcher's duel. I got no visitors over at third base until the fifth inning. Dajuan started the inning off by beating out an infield hit. My Robbie smashed a pitch to right center that fell in between the outfielders. I motioned for Dajuan to come to third base, gave him the "stop" and "stand up" signals as he approached and we had runners on second and third. No outs.
The other team's head coach came out of the dugout and called for a timeout to go talk to his pitcher. I instructed Dajuan to listen to me on when to run. I gave the "thumbs up" to my son on second, who was grinning broadly.
"Hey, coach?" Dajuan asked. "You mind if I go to the dugout and get my slurpee? I'm thirsty."
"No slurpees on third base." I firmly responded.
After a prolonged discussion at the mound, the coach retreated to the dugout and our next batter approached the plate. Several pitches later, Kenny sent a high fly to right field.
"Stay on the bag. Go when I tell you to!" I shouted at Dajuan. The right fielder made the catch and I shouted "Go,go, go!" to Dajuan. He dashed toward home. I was so engrossed in the chance to score that I didn't notice Robbie running toward third until he was halfway there. The second baseman took the cutoff throw and looked to third.
"Slide, slide!" I bellowed at Robbie. The throw was coming. The throw was...way too high and sailed into the 3rd base sideline fence. Robbie ignored my pleas to slide, touched the bag and headed toward home plate. He slid into home, beating the throw from the third baseman and we were up 2-0. I just shook my head in comic exasperation as our players left the dugout and mobbed Robbie and Dajuan outside the dugout.
We won the game 3-0. One of our substitute players, a boy named Vance, who the other kids had nicknamed "no hit" got a measure of revenge by plowing a pitch way over the centerfielder's head and getting an inside-the-park home run. Vance quit the team a couple of weeks later so he could spend more time at the pool. The tribulations of coaching. As that first season went on, we didn't win many more games. Dajuan and I had a running joke going on the rest of that season. Whenever he would reach third base, I's remind him about the "no slurpee" rule. He'd roll his eyes and usually respond "You crazy, Stork."
I guess you never forget your first game as a coach. Robbie has since moved on, done with little league a couple of years now and trying his skills at football. I still coach for the Terminators. Charlie is still the head coach but Phil retired and Benny, a college kid with Brad Pitt-type handsome looks, supervises first base. The nickname "Big Stork" has hung with me, passed on from year to year. We won the title last year. We're doing pretty good this season, off to a 2-0 start. Dajuan's little brother, Dashawn, plays for us and is a decent shortstop. Dajuan comes to the games, now accompanied by two or three giggling, pretty young girls. He's gone baggy pants, sunglasses and laid back, cool demeanor. He's a pretty decent basketball player as a freshman. Runs track and my son tells me he's got a great arm but isn't interested in playing football. He's a young man full of quiet confidence and walks with a swagger. Dajuan and I talk before games sometimes. He told me at the start of the season:
"I got Dashawn up on what's down. Told him to listen to the stork and no slurpees on third."
Have a great Saturday, CARDINAL COUPLE readers and we'll see you tomorrow.