Tuesday, June 22, 2010


Talking to my son between innings. (photo by Gail Winger)

Father’s Day never meant all that much to me until I became a father myself. It (becoming a father) always was something I figured I would do; I just never knew when, or how rewarding it would be once it actually happened.

But now I’m afraid I might be turning into “that guy.” You know, the one you see living vicariously through their children. It’s not like I’m a stage father or anything, but I do have to admit that lately I’ve been living and dying with every one of my son’s little league baseball games - probably even more so because I happen to be his coach.

Let’s not underestimate the power of “the coach.” I still remember my little league coaches quite vividly - and not always with a lot of fondness. More often than not, my coach was always some kid on the team’s dad, just like I am now, and they always did what most dad/coaches do – put their kids in primo positions even if they sucked.

This is just what dad/coaches do. I never took it personally because I knew if I was in their position I’d probably do the same thing. Besides, even if I thought they were idiots at times, I got along with most of my coaches (and their sons) and we had pretty good teams when I was a kid.

Of course, that was long before the advent of youth soccer in our society. When I was a kid everyone played baseball because basically our summers were made up of two choices: play ball, or go swimming - and the order of these two was mighty important, as every dad/coach would warn us on game days. We were strictly forbidden to go swimming before a game lest it somehow interfere with our ability to field a grounder or swing a bat.

The whole swimming-on-game-day stuff never made sense to me then, but now, 35-years later, I find myself telling my players the same crap about the evils of the swimming pool, and it’s my son who is playing the primo positions (from an objective standpoint, if that’s possible, he is one of our best players).

I’m not sure, but I think maybe, subconsciously I got married and had kids so that I could relive my childhood again. Sadly, little league may have been the highpoint of my baseball career because I was never good enough to play past the high school level, but I’m still plenty good enough to play with 10-year-olds. (plus I get to wear a uniform and hat – just like the players!)

And who couldn't love all the neato things that 10-year-old boys like to do? Like giving each other cool nicknames. My team, the Ann Arbor A’s, is made up mostly of kids named after breakfast cereals. We have “Apple Jacks” at third base, “Corn Flake Blake” at second and a kid we call “Special K” who can play anywhere. We also have our hardware section with "Hammer" at short, and "Nails" in centerfield. My son has been dubbed “8-ball” and our exceptionally tall pitcher landed the unfortunate moniker of “Sasquatch.” The fastest kid on the team is “Hot Wheels” and our catcher is “Savior” (his initials are J.C.). We also have one kid who never wears socks, so his nickname, of course, is “Socks.”

These kids have great personalities too. One of the boys (Nails) has taken it upon himself to be my official “cuss counter” quietly pointing out every time a let a swear word fly out of my mouth. I told him I’d give him 10 bucks at the end of the season if he has more runs-batted-in than I have swear words ... right now my money’s pretty safe.

And I would know because I keep track of things like runs-batted-in, and batting averages and on-base percentages. I chart every pitch and every at bat. I keep track of stolen bases, passed balls, and errors. I’ve turned into a statistical geek for no apparent reason because I don’t even like math.

Maybe I’m taking this coaching thing too seriously because last week when we blew a four-run lead in the last inning to lose by one, I stayed awake for two straight nights wondering if there were any moves I could have made to help us win.

It’s sick, I know, but the fun I had playing ball as a 10-year-old doesn’t even compare to the amount of fun I’m having coaching them. (I think it’s because I don’t have to run.) I guess it all makes sense because despite my age, I’ve never really felt like a grown up. Sure I’ve got a college education, but I much prefer relating to 10-year-old kid collecting baseball cards than a grown man playing the stock market.

That's who I am - why should I fight it? I don’t even own a suit or a tie, so I guess I’ll be buried in a ball cap instead. All I ask is that they don’t plant grass on top of my gravesite when I die. I'd rather have a pitcher’s mound!

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