A Personal Connection~Learning About Life Through Little League

Coaches

Little League Coaches

By Hank Manz

Even with some of the fields still brown and even with the nights still cold, it is now a very important time of year. Spring? Well, sure, but more important than that. I am speaking of something that surpasses everything else because it is time to start playing baseball.

I don’t mean just watching baseball. Sure, that can be important, too, but not as important as actually playing the game.

There are other sports that people might like, but there is nothing quite like a warm summer night, a well-oiled glove, a hat that fits perfectly, and a bunch of players who can’t hit my knuckleball. OK—that last is getting harder to come by, but even with three out of four, there is nothing with which to compare it.

I was a very small kid with no arm, but one summer in Police Athletic League baseball I ran into a coach who had a couple of the fingers on his throwing hand in a recent war. All he could throw was a knuckleball which was perfect for a player who would never be able to throw faster than 65 mph, even in college.

That knuckleball, along with an ability to scratch out singles with men on base, and a Vern Law signature model glove earned me a spot on several teams over the years. More than 50 years later I still have the glove. Oh, there have been love affairs with flashier models now and again, but I have always returned to that Law Trap-Eze glove. I once buried an almost new glove at a field in Cambridge after committing five errors including one that lost the game for my team.

The non-wood bats gave me a boost about the time my hitting was starting to really sag, but my first home run would not come until I was just past my 40th birthday when the perfect pitch and the best swing ever came together in my first round-tripper. It broke a window in a passing T-bus, but the driver just shrugged it off as did the police officer whose cruiser windshield I cracked when I fouled one off later in the game.

So it was inevitable that one day I would take my then only eligible child to Little League registration. After signing up we waited for the coach to call to tell us what team she was going to be on, but instead a smooth-talking league organizer came by to tell me that an awful lot of kids were going to be disappointed if I couldn’t sign up as a manager, the baseball equivalent of a head coach. It seems they were short of volunteers and really needed someone with my experience, etc., etc. Later, when I became a league organizer, I would use that line more times than I care to count.

I stuck with Little League, eventually joined the board of directors, and ended up as a league organizer. But I also stuck with coaching.

That somehow led to running for Town Meeting although I still do not fully understand exactly how that came about. And that led to running for Selectman.

I finally gave up Little League, but then concentrated on youth hockey and Boy Scouts. About four years into the transition I realized that what I had learned as a Little League organizer fit right into both hockey and Scouts. Hmmmmm.

One day, a light dawned. What I had learned in Little League also fit into town government and a lot of other endeavors. Everything I had learned about life appears to have been learned in Little League. Wow!

One of the first things I learned was that you can make all the rules you want, but if they fail to pass by a huge majority, nobody will follow them.

Use all your players. The day will come when you will be thankful that you spent all your time on that kid who just couldn’t seem to catch the ball because he will make a brilliant catch late in a tournament game which will more than make up for all the ones he dropped.

While we are on that subject, you will spend 75% of your time coaching 25% of your players. If you are a good coach, it will be the lowest 25% and not the highest 25%. The highest 25% are probably better players than you were anyway.

Of course you shouldn’t cheat, but don’t even cut corners. You may be following the letter of the law, but someday the fact that you didn’t pay attention to the spirit of the rules will come back to haunt you.

Try not to relive your past glories through your team. Most of the kids are just looking to have some fun while they figure out that they don’t really want to play ball for their life work. To be honest, your past glories probably weren’t perfect, either. No need for your players to know that.

Keep in mind that there will be failures. With a lifetime batting average of .210 that means I failed close to 4 out of every 5 times at bat. You are surprised I know my lifetime batting average? It doesn’t hurt to keep track so long as you don’t beat anybody else over the head with it.

Winning it all can be exciting, but pizza after you have spent the season in the cellar, but then knocked off the #1 seed in the tournament tastes really good … even when you get knocked out by the #12 seed two nights later. Live for the moment and don’t always concentrate on the big picture.

Try to see the humor in what is going on. My Little League team once won a game when the opposing coach yelled at his pitcher “Just throw strikes.” The pitcher looked over at me and smiled, then started to laugh so hard that he couldn’t get anything even close to the plate. That pitcher is now 28 years old and we both still chuckle about that game. I mean what did his coach think he was trying to do?

Don’t take advantage. It is, after all, only a game. With three players on base, the opposing catcher was hit so hard by a pitch that he fell down in front of the plate screaming. Technically, the team at bat could have sent all the runners home and won the game, but both coaches immediately called time and instructed the spectators to stop yelling. As one coach put it “Winning by stepping over a screaming child is not my style.”

There is so much more, but I will leave you with this thought. We all know healthy snacks are good for you, but while players may like them, nobody really adores them so now and then break out the licorice ropes and Hershey bars. The players will sing your praises and who knows—the resulting sugar high may win you a game.

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