Team Player

16 07 2012

ImageBack some 20 years ago I found myself, like many fathers of young boys, coaching a little league baseball team.  This caused for some interesting moments to say the least since this was my 1st time ever in this position, and I soon learned most of the youth I was in charge of had never played a game of organized ball; wasn’t long before I could tell it was going to be a long season! All the boys were great to work with, some a little more rambunctious than nerves could take at times, but never the less, wonderful kids.  Now I’m not one of those youth coaches that put heavy emphasis on winning.  Perhaps that comes from my days in little league where my main position was “riding the pine” as they say, which translates to sitting on the bench watching the better players take the field.  That might have some bearing, but mostly my philosophy in kids sports is that there needs to be two key ingredients to be successful, fun and fundamentals.  The job of a coach is to be a leader, confidant, and teacher with the later being the most important.  I ran a youth football league for 10 years and we held strongly to this belief.  We never had places for winning the season or all-star teams.  We concentrated on teaching the game of football and doing the best we could to ensure that each child’s time in the league was a good one, and we accomplished that by making sure everyone played at least half the game.  We must have done something right because for a time we grew to be the largest pee-wee football league in the state of Indiana.  Also, check any of the local high-school football programs back then and you would find 70 to 85% of the roster was made up of boys that came from our program.  (Okay, enough blowing that horn, got sidetracked, sorry!)  Anyway that’s how I approached coaching baseball; we would concentrate on learning every position on the field and every boy getting the chance to play where ever they wanted, and like most youngsters, the majority wanted a chance to pitch. Most teams would have three, maybe four pitchers; I had nine. Of the nine, I had one legitimate pitcher, a couple others that could get the ball across the plate, sometimes, with the rest who could toss some balls that even made parents and fans in the bleachers take cover!  It made for some long innings watching the opposing team come to the plate and just stand there (or jump out of the way of a crazy pitch) until they drew a walk.  The scores sometimes made you feel like you were watching football instead; 21-0, 18-3.  As bad as it would get sometimes and I’d want to put in my ace, I stayed the course and let everyone who wanted to pitch get his shot, which is what a few “aggressive type” parents wanted to do to me at time.  Oh well.   Win or lose I wasn’t changing anything.  I encouraged each to give their best and not to worry what the outcome might be.  And who knows, maybe a miracle of memory just might develop.  That came one afternoon in the form of a gangling young man named Johnny.

Johnny was taller than most of the other boys on the team, getting a good growth spurt at a young age, but he had a tendency to be just a little awkward since, like many his age, coordination had not caught up to his size yet.  But Johnny was a champ, every time he took the field he gave all he had no matter what the score. So when he told me he wanted a chance to pitch, there was no way in the world I was going to tell him no; the end result was not pretty.  Like most of the other wannabe pitchers Johnny had a control problem getting the ball across the plate.  He could throw hard but couldn’t key in on getting it into the catcher’s mitt.  When he finally slowed his approach down, he got it across for a strike but it was so slow a good hitter would send the ball into outer space.  Johnny got rocked his 1st time on the mound, but I encouraged him to just relax, shake it off, his next outing would be better; it wasn’t.  Now you would think that after a boy takes a shellacking, not once but twice, he’d want to stay as far away from that nemesis as possible, not Johnny.  He couldn’t wait for his next outing and pleaded with me to make it soon.  Personally, I was hesitant, I wanted everybody to get his chance to pitch, but I also didn’t want anyone to come away traumatized by the event.  I let a couple of games go by without Johnny pitching, but he would always ask at the end, “When can I pitch again?”  Seeing he was bound and determined, I relented and said, “Johnny, next game you take the hill.”  With a big smile, he was off to his parents’ car.  As I watched him head off, I prayed, “Lord, please don’t let that youngin get hurt physically or emotionally next game!”

Next game we drew a team that had put it to us pretty hard the 1st go-around and I wanted to throw my best pitcher, put then a lanky grinning lad was in front of me saying, “Ready to go coach!” Nothing left to say; “Go get em Johnny!”  A few of my players, and yes, even some parents questioned my sanity, remembering the last 2 outings with Johnny pitching.  The decision was made and I knew at least there were 2 of us there that were satisfied with it; play ball.  The 1st inning started quite like all the others, 2 hit, 2 walks, 2 runs. The boys came into the dugout for their turn at bat.  I noticed Johnny and didn’t like what I saw.  His face was twisted with anger as he threw his glove down, grabbed a bat and waited his turn since he was 3rd in the line-up.  1st batter, strike out, 2nd batter, ball hit back to the pitcher, out number 2.  Now Johnny was up to bat, still with a grimace plastered on face.  1st pitch, line drive to left field and Johnny goes into 3rd with a triple!  Our side of the field exploded with excitement, no one on the team had hit a triple before now!  Next batter, lined to center for a double and Johnny scores!  As he crossed the plate, he became the cheerleader yelling with all his might.  His enthusiasm became contagious to the rest of the boys and we finished that inning scoring 6 runs.  My assistant coach said, “Let’s let Johnny go one more inning, if he gets into trouble again we can make a switch, hey we just might win this game!”  I nodded in agreement, but I wasn’t so sure that’s what I wanted to do; I didn’t have to worry about it.  Now the other team was up to bat and they were the ones a little rattled for a change.  1st pitch, “Strike.”  2nd pitch, “Foul Ball!  3rd, “Ball.”  4th, “Strike, You’re Out!”  Johnny threw his hand in the air with his index finger sticking out as to say “We’re Number 1!”  That hand went soaring upward many more times as Johnny pasted strike after strike over the plate.  His energy level flowed over to the rest of the team with boys getting hits that night that had never even touched the ball before then.  The game was called by the “mercy rule” in the 5th inning.  That’s when one team goes way up in score for the other.  I knew this rule well from having it called in some of our prior games.  Only this was the 1st time it was ever enacted with us winning!!

“Faith means believing the unbelievable, hope means hoping when everything seems hopeless.” G.K. Chesterton

It would do my ego wonders to tell you we turned everything around after that night, kinda like the “Bad News Bears,” that would be the thing fables are made of.  We did manage to squeak out a couple more wins, but nothing like that magic moment when it seemed like everything came together for the team, and for Johnny.  The best I can figure, what happened that magical evening for a bunch of kids who hadn’t come anywhere close to tasting a victory, is one of them came to that game determined to win, to show that he, that his team was better than what they had been playing.  At first, it looked like the same result, but Johnny dug down deep inside himself and found what he needed, what he knew was there to be a winner. There’s a song we used to sing that went, “It only takes a spark to get a fire going.”  Johnny’s fire to give his best caught on to the rest of the team that night, and oh my, did it ever burn!

As I’ve said in the past I don’t see myself as anyone special, but over the course of my life I’ve accomplished a few things that some might catalog as special.  If that is true, I give credit to the three most likely reasons why; determination, faith, grace.  I’ve made changes in my life that at one time I considered impossible to do, but by determination I stayed the course and achieved the goal set forth.  I had to have faith that I could do what I set out to do, if I can’t believe in myself, how can I expect anyone else to believe in me?  Then the most important, the grace of God that He has poured over my life when I accepted his Son into my life.  For me, anything and everything I’ve attained has been by His guiding hand.

Check out Mark 9, especially verse 23.

Always remember, Friends and Family, when I share something about me or even about someone else, it’s not for the purpose of blowing a horn, its for possibly helping someone who just might need to hear something encouraging as we travel together on the “Rock Road.”  That’s what’s it’s all about, if you find a treasure, be willing to share it with others who may need it.  For me, that treasure comes in the lives and stories of ones like Johnny who encouraged the Gray One here.  But the greatest encouragement, the greatest Treasure I have found along the Rock Road; is the Rock!  That’s no wrestler, that’s a Savior.

Hey everyone, have a great and blessed week.  Dig Deep, there’s a talent God has placed there you might not have tapped into yet, awesome! 🙂


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