Take me out, coach

Published 9:54 pm Friday, May 19, 2017

Is anything more fun — and nerve-wracking — to watch than Dixie Youth baseball?

Though the outcome of the games doesn’t really matter, it sure doesn’t feel that way when your team is losing or when your child is up to bat.

This week my son’s team played a nail-biter that should have ended with an easy win. But my mental mistake almost cost them the game.

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Ahead 12-8 with under a minute left on the clock, all Ethan had to do was stand there for a few pitches and let the clock hit zero. All he had to do was not strike out quickly.

But I neglected to tell him that. I neglected to call “time” and walk up to the batters box and explain the situation to him. I just stood in the dugout and watched while he swung at three pitches and quickly struck out.

With 10 seconds left on the clock, the other team got a chance to bat again. And they took advantage of the opportunity. They put six runs on the board before we ended the inning, and all I could think was that I had lost this game for them — and I’m not even a coach.

Thankfully, the boys on the team were unaware of my mistake. They fought back in the bottom-half of the inning, scored three runs and won the game. I was probably more excited — and relieved — about the win than anyone on that team.

It reminded me of when my own father once made a mistake while I was playing Dixie Youth ball. If I can still remember the details of this game today, you know it was a big mistake.

I was probably 10 and he was my coach. You fathers who have coached know just how tough the job can be.

I was pitching and having a tough time finding the strike zone. I walked one, then another, then another. Eventually I walked in a run. I was mad, embarrassed and wanted to come out of the game.

But my old man just stood in the dugout and left me on the mound. He wouldn’t take me out, but instead kept yelling advice like “just throw strikes” or “give him something to hit.”

Oh, I hadn’t thought of that. Let me throw strikes now. Nope, another run walked in, then another, and another.

At this point, I was so angry at my father for not taking me out I wasn’t even going through my windup. I was just chunking it toward home. I hit a couple kids and walked some more. I had walked in about 10 runs and parents were starting to get upset.

They yelled at me, yelled at my dad, yelled at each other. It was a nightmare. My own teammates were yelling at me, begging me to throw strikes. I simply couldn’t. Not at that point.

But my dad left me in the game. I eventually walked in another five or 10 runs and the game ended. If my memory is correct, he never took me out of the game. I think the ump finally had sympathy on me and ended the debacle.

I am certain my father thought he was teaching me a lesson — something about perseverance, leadership and not quitting.

And I’m sure a more thoughtful, less hardheaded son would have taken those lessons to heart. I sure didn’t.

But when I grew older, I looked back on that game and took one lesson from it — never coach your son’s team. That was my takeaway. It’s too emotional, too stressful and I’m too stubborn.

I’m happy to stand beyond the fence and let someone else coach. They may not have as much baseball knowledge. They may not know how to get the best from their pitchers or how to teach a kid to hit. But they aren’t yelling (at least most of them aren’t), and for the most part they are treating those boys with respect and helping build their confidence.

That’s what Dixie Youth baseball is all about. The wins and losses don’t really matter. The strikeouts and walks don’t really matter. They are having fun and learning the game. There will come a time when that changes but, thankfully, we’re not there yet.

Publisher Luke Horton can be reached at luke.horton@dailyleader.com.