Jeff Pearlman

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A Little League Light

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.

Word.

  • http://www.fatpickled.com Doug Ramey

    As a guy who played baseball for 20 years, from 5-25 I totally agree. My son is 7 and I’m letting him decide what he likes to play/do without influence from me. His T-ball coach just let the kids play, set them up in front of the tee and said “whack it.” The last practice of the year he brought dozens of water balloons and just let the kids run wild. The children should have fun and not take it too seriously…as the parents should. When my son decides whats important to him, then it will be important to me. Happy Father’s Day JP.

  • Daniel

    I am flattered by this, Jeff. I just hope the kids feel as good about themselves and this season as this column made me feel — but without the awkwardness of being spotlighted. I never had the chance to feel good about myself in sports until way too late in life, which is a crime. I reckon, if we can figure out the right way to tell each kid what to do so they can experience accomplishment and the associated pride beginning at this age, we can arm them to deal with a whole lot, well beyond the sports they will play. I’m real glad you and Emmett were part of this season; you more than off-set the douchiness and lameness, respectively, that others brought to bear. For what it’s worth, Mr. Pink repeatedly offerred to help today.

  • Riley

    He COMPLETED a season already?

    For crying out loud, it’s not even summer yet!

    Man, back in my day…

  • Asherdan

    Good on Daniel for getting what it’s all about, I tried to work the same kind of way coaching my son’s t-ball this year.

    Hey Jeff, carve out some time and offer to be a coach next year. Totally worth it.

  • Dave

    Glad your son enjoyed his season and we certainly need the lessons coaches like Daniel can impart on our kids.

    One great memory I had coaching. One day a young lad on the other team had two hits in a game, both infield singles.

    He must have been the worst player on either team, he hadn’t really progressed in the four years he’d been playing.

    I went up to him after the game and said “nice game Brock, you got two hits today.”

    He said to me “how do you know my name? Oh yeah it’s on my helmet!”

    Well that and he was on the very first team I ever coached. I remember thinking here he is struggling and yet he’s here, smiling and having fun, and for once having a couple of hits too.

    We as coaches have to remember that, we do it for the kids, parents be damned some of the time.

    Someone once said the best coaching job is head coach for an orphanage, no parents!

    Keep enjoying your time, the both of you.

    And Jeff, thanks for the memory jog, it brought back a good feeling.

  • blmeanie

    nice post, loved my oldest son’s years playing. when he got to coach pitch after tee ball I volunteered to pitch, loved doing it. I then became the assistant coach that always had a camera and produced the end of season video. It is so much fun clipping highlights for every kid, even those kids that struggle knowing they will love the video as much as the next kid. Take lots of pictures and video Jeff, I agree with the get involved and help out the coaches next year.

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