I liked sports when I was younger. Not “normal” sports mind you, as I excelled in bowling, and later in ping pong. As a parent, I was an enthusiastic observer of my children’s sports activities. Now, so many years later, I am amazed at my involvement as a coach for my kids. I never aspired to coach, but the position presented itself due, in part, to the occasional incompetence and unenthusiastic work of some (not all, of course) of the coaches. Having three children, and being a believer of equality in giving time to my children, I concluded my “career” by coaching each of my three kids twice. Basketball, soccer, and softball coaching was my mediocre legacy. I was never good enough to make a “winning machine” team, but I was a fun, enthusiastic coach. I coached my son twice in basketball; my middle daughter once in basketball, and once in soccer (where I learned the wisdom of the advice: “never coach a sport you don’t know the rules to”); and, my youngest daughter twice in softball. As she entered the eighth grade, Adele informed me she was going to quit softball. She cited her reasoning: the coaches don’t show up for practice; when they do, they always wanted her to pitch, and “I haven’t hit the ball out of the infield all of last year”. So, contrary to my intentions, I made her a deal, “If I come out of ‘retirement’ to coach one extra time, would you play?” She countered, “If you promise to never to put on the mound.” I agreed and we began the most memorable sports experience of my life.
We needed a pitcher, and there were two great ones: Stacy and Destiny. I was fortunate to get Stacy. I know the sport of softball, but I do not know how to teach kids how to hit. However, our local psychiatrist had the reputation of being a batting guru. And, his daughter Jessica was a great ball player. He was happy to be my assistant coach. Early on, little Jessica confided in me, “My Dad really likes coaching batting! He has a thousand dollars of videos on batting! My Mom says if he buys another video, she’s going to divorce him!!” Obviously, I chose wisely.
My counseling business was really hopping. Scheduling practices was going to hurt. I solved the dilemma surprisingly easily by declaring: oh well. I noted to my dismay and disgust that the boys’ baseball practice fields were the good ones. The girls got the lousy fields. A good hit to left field meant we spent five minutes looking for the ball in the high grass. So we invented “steal a field”. We started our practices a little earlier, and played wherever we wanted to. This occasionally resulted in a little friction with other coaches. Once, when the coach of the Reds (boys Little League) wanted to fight because he had to wait fifteen minutes for us to finish, my little 8th grade girls rallied behind me and prevented the squab. I also assigned music detail to the girls. Each practice a girl would bring a CD for us to jam to as we practiced. We also scrimmaged a mini game at the end of each practice to make it more fun (for me as well, as I got to play). Once we had a Saturday morning practice and it started to lightly snow. Man it was cold! I decided to call off practice. The team protested and insisted we continue. The compliment was not lost on me.
As we began the regular season I told the girls, “I have only two wishes for this season. One, I want this season to be the most fun y’all have ever had in any of your sports experiences. Second, I would love just one double play. Just one. Now it’s not likely, and it’s ok, but if we can, a double play would really be cool. Regardless, let’s have great fun.” And we did.
With Super Stacy as our pitcher, most of the other teams struggled to hit the ball well. With Dr. Scott as our batting coach, everyone on our team was hitting well. My daughter, who rightfully complained about her poor batting turned into a slugging machine. She begged me not to put her in the batting lineup as clean-up batter (4th). Fortunately, Dr. Scott’s daughter Jessica, also the only switch hitter in the league, transformed into a slugging monster. She was our clean-up batter. Although our catcher was cursed with a poor throwing arm, her glove was practically magnetic. I don’t remember a dropped pitch the entire season.
In preparation for the “big game” with Ben Shackelford’s team, we asked Stacy’s Dad, also the high school girls’ softball coach, if we could use the batting cage. He was kind enough to oblige. As a result, when my girls faced Destiny, the other great pitcher, they could hit a mighty fast pitch. We won the big game. However, the season was not yet over.
As the season was drawing to a close, we were in first place by one game. The final game was against Shackelford’s team. My sister and husband were down visiting from the cool weather San Francisco Bay area. Although the grand finale temperature was 107 degrees, my sister joyfully joined the large crowd for “the game of the season”. Man, it was hot. All we needed was the final win, but we lost. Now we had a tie for first place, and an unscheduled 107 degree double header. None of the parents or families left, but the girls were tired. Then Stacy came over to me and broke the news. “Coach, my shoulder is hurting. I don’t think I can pitch anymore.” Doomsday. We had no back up pitcher. I promised Adele I would not put her on the mound, and I couldn’t do it now. Then I remembered—I had a tube of a topical anesthetic (Myoflex®) in my bag. As I got it out, Stacy rolled up her athletics shirt and jabbed her shoulder at me, “Rub it on coach!” So I petitioned Adele to apply the ointment, and she was cured! Just before we began Stacy again came over to me and advised me “Coach, it’s the final game of the season and we need to sing the Star Spangled Banner”. You gotta be kidding me. Plus, I don’t know if I remembered all the lyrics. So I told her, “Stacy, if you want to sing it, you do it”. So she stood in front of the bleachers in a scorching 107° day and began. “Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh say can you seeeeeeeeeeee....… byyyyyyyy the dawwwwwwwn’s earlyyyyyy liiiiiiiiiiiiiiight………. Two minutes later, as she began the second verse, the ump, insane with rage, frustration, and heat exhaustion stomped up to me and threatened, “Start the game or you’re going to forfeit!” I told him if he wanted to stop a little girl from singing the National Anthem in front of all these parents, he should tell her to stop. He stomped back to home plate and, like all of us, anxiously awaited the distant conclusion. After what seemed like the longest minutes of our lives, the game began.
The game promised to be the best game of the season, and all of these girls did not disappoint. Although they were ready to drop, both teams duked it out. We inched our way on top, and by the bottom of the final inning, we were ahead 9 to 4. Then it was 9 to 5, 6, and then 9 to 7. With runners on first and second, Stacy walked the next batter to load the bases, with only one out. With Shenekia, their cleanup batter coming to the plate, we were poised to lose the season. Shenekia, one of the strongest batters in the league smashed the first pitch towards left field. My third baseman, Sarah, a little tall for her age, stabbed her glove up and miraculously snagged the fly. Adele, the shortstop, yelled, “Touch third Sarah! Touch third!” Boom. Double play. Game over.
After the girls joyously dumped the cooler of the coldest ice water I have ever seen all over me, and I was getting my heart rate down, we had our final team meeting. All of us knew that we had just finished the best sports experience ever, and were all overjoyed and a tiny bit sad at its conclusion.
So many years later I am still a little amazed that the purpose of my final coaching stint was to give my daughter one last good sports memory, but even today, it ended up being me who benefited the most.