Earlier today my son Emmett completed his first full season of real Little League baseball. It was, to understate, a blast. Emmett can’t catch a lick, he runs a little wobbly and he spends half his time in the field looking at the grass and wondering, aloud, “Why is this sooooo boring?”
Hey, he’s 5.
What Emmett loves to do is hit. We’ve worked on it quite a bit these past few weeks, and he’s a kid who goes for contact over power. I’ve taught Emmett what I consider to be the best way for an up-and-comer to swing—elbow cocked only slightly, hands choked all the way up, bat lined up almost directly in front of your chest. At this age, as I see it, too many coaches/parents tell their children to hold the bat far back, elbow high in the air, a la George Foster, ’77. This might work for the elite athletes, but most kids swing far too late—especially if the coach is pitching (as he does in this league). Personally, I just wanted Emmett to get his bat out as quickly as possible, power be damned. At the risk of patting myself on the back, it worked quite well.
Alas, I digress. This post wasn’t supposed to be about me, but about Daniel Urbas, coach on the Thunderbirds. Daniel lives across the street from us; wonderful guy; wonderful father; just a classy dude. When I initially found out that he would be coaching Emmett, I was elated—even when he later confessed to me that his player experience was, well, minimal.
In a way, that’s what made Daniel an exceptional coach this season. As other parents, armed with morsels of baseball knowledge, convince themselves of their Torre-esque knowledge base, Daniel kept it simple. Here’s how you swing; here’s how you throw; these are the rules; have a friggin’ great, great, great time—winning be damned. I can’t state the importance of this outlook enough: Winning didn’t matter, and shouldn’t have mattered. Everyone swung the bat, everyone had moments of success, everyone learned.
At today’s game, Pink Collar returned—only in a white T-shirt that made him appear slightly less douchy. When his son walked up to hit, Pink Collar walked up to the third base line, standing about, oh, five feet from Daniel. At the same time Daniel calmly conveyed advice and encouragement to the boy, Pink Collar screamed this and that—help, criticism, (bad) wisdom, stupid bullshit. It was like watching good angel and bad angel side by side. Only good angel (Daniel) won, in that kid clearly wanted little to do with Pink Collar.
I’m babbling. Every youth baseball team needs a coach like Daniel—someone who cares about the kids, values development and, most of all, wants to supply warm memories and hopeful moments.