Let me preface this by saying, I accept the fact my Little League team, the Braves, lost 11-1 yesterday and I am not trying to find excuses as to why we lost but the fact remains, the other team did not win the game.
Little League, as I remember it was much different when I started playing back in 1978. Fundamentally the game of baseball hasn’t changed in over 125 years, you catch, throw, hit and run. At the end of the game, the team with the most runs win, usually as a result of their offensive prowess with their bats. While I don’t remember many details or specifics, I have some vivid memories of my childhood youth making good plays and big hits that helped my team win games.
As I reflect on the men who coached me, I begin to wonder what I am missing as a manager, which saw my team come out looking like the Bad News Bears, making me the Morris Buttermaker of East County Little League. Much like Buttermaker I have very little experience coaching baseball, but years of experience playing the game (even though I never struck out Mike Schmidt) and 3 years working with young kids in an educational environment. While we didn’t give up 26 runs in our first game before forfeit, there is unsettled feeling within me.
I didn’t keep an official score book yesterday, by my tally the opposing team had 2 hits reaching the outfield en-route to scoring 11 runs. Two hits! The strike zone, as the head umpire mentioned while exchanging lineups was going to “encourage the kids to swing and swing often.” After half an inning his strike zone was from the top of the helmet to the top of the shoes, if the ball crossed the plate it was called a strike. Now I agree with encouraging kids to swing the bat, but my God I won’t teach kids to swing at balls at their ankles or high and out of the strike zone. Since when is that considered good fundamentals? Some of my players pride themselves on taking pitches to get “their pitch” this philosophy I have called over to managing. I would much rather a kid be called out on strikes than swing at balls they have no business swinging at. What does this teach kids who end up moving to a higher division next season?
Our pitchers had some control issues through the game and issued far too many walks. Once on base it took 3-4 pitches, before the defense knew it the runner was standing on third base or worse, scoring. The base coaches wasted no time in sending their runners. Again, what does this teach players? Where is the fun in actually PLAYING baseball? If anything, it tells me our players need to work harder on the fundamentals of the game. Pitchers and catchers end up being highly valued if they can play catch without any passed balls. As word in the league has it, this is how the game is played at the competitive level. This, in my book is not baseball.
Maybe I am overreacting to how the game transpired when it was called after just 4 innings due to the 10-run rule. My kids were devastated, parents probably upset, as they had no idea what was going on when the game was called, which required an explanation. The coaches were frustrated with how the game transpired, I continue to call it “bush-league” baseball. However I do see it a learning experience, which will become teach moments at our next practice. The only explanation I can come with was the boys were nervous and didn’t look comfortable or prepared when they took the field.
Everything I have been taught about coaching seemed to fail yesterday when it came to execution. I know the abilities of my players, their strengths and weaknesses and game planned as such to give players opportunities to excel and play to their strengths. Much of what we learned as coaches came from organized practices, where we broke down and taught skills, which led to creating our playing system that provides chances for all players to start and playing complete games during the season. Yet it took less than an inning before the frustration had set in. Had we failed in teaching strategy?
The word is basically defined as a plan or series of choices made to win a competition or battle. “Oftentimes, baseball strategy boils down to just hit the ball, get on base and we can figure it out from there. Don’t take my word for it; take noted player, MLB manager and ‘strategist’ Jimmie Dykes who had 21 seasons of managerial experience from 1934-1961. He coined the phrase, “You can’t steal first base.” Meaning all of the thinking is pointless until you hit the ball.”
Failure is my responsibility, which I accept. Keeping a positive attitude towards all the players and the game is what is important. Yet the long faces and blank stares of the players in the field told the story all to well. There was no fun yesterday in baseball, the game as I knew it has changed, maybe it has passed me by. Still the words of Grantland Rice ring true in regards to our opening game, “not that you won or lost – but how you played the Game.” As long as every boy out there had fun and played to the best of their ability, giving it 100%, the result of the game is irrelevant.
A little league season is not a single game, we have seventeen more to improve, working out deficiencies, while developing the player and the person. A successful season doesn’t need to be defined by the number of wins we have or how many losses we suffered. If my players walk away after the season with an increased knowledge and skill level than when they started I will feel I have done my job in managing. While I am still frustrated with the game, it will be used as a foundation to build a better team. I do take some solace in knowing we will be the #1 seed when the playoffs start, which is when the season truly begins. These 18 regular season games are merely practice games.