My First Day of Coaching

My first day coaching baseball, I gave a kid a cap. The eight other kids all had blue baseball caps; this kid just had his shock of black hair. All of them were throwing in three lines of three, while Coach Bennie gave sensible instructions: keep your mitt chest high; throw with a straight-down motion.

He had greeted me by saying, “You didn’t need to suit up.” I have been suiting up since before I got the job as JV coach; it was one of the reasons I asked the athletic director at this school about coaching, since I was dressing in baseball pants anyway. Still, I respected Coach Bennie’s wariness of me. You have to respect people’s wariness, otherwise you will just make them warier.

This is Coach Bennie’s first year as head coach. Last year he coached JV, so you can see how he would be wary. I am not after his job, though. I just want to take swings that matter. I take swings in my backyard every day, swatting oranges beyond the banana trees. Those swings matter in the sense that I am playing WALKOFF, in which the first batter to go yard wins. It’s a fun game even though I am all the batters. Yet after five years of playing baseball by myself I feel ready to get other people into the game.

Swings that matter could also include ground balls batted at would-be infielders and fungos unfurled towards outfielders in the making. Those would be noble swings indeed. I have batting gloves to minimize blisters, though I also have a blister from batting and the season hasn’t even started. Technically, the blister comes from visiting a batting cage over the weekend and swinging a patch of thumb skin raw. More broadly, it’s a sign that I have love of baseball that requires sharing, so it’s a good thing I conjured up this coaching gig.

Coach Bennie looks like a fitness instructor, with cast iron arms and countenance stern. Yet he spoke to the ballplayers courteously and directly, signalling his aim is true. As the boys — no girls yet, but again, the season hasn’t even started — ran their drill, we stood to the side of the adequate playing field on the Bradbury High School campus, surrounded by tall buildings, some old with neon signs on top, not turned on but elegant still in the brief brightness of the midday winter sky.

He told me that this was a Beyond the Bell program and he couldn’t actually let me work with the boys until I am fully registered and certified; as in, up-to-date on first aid and concussion protocol and all-in-all legit as JV coach of record. That is all highly reputable and above-board and as it should be; nevertheless, it did rather ding my expectation of this week of winter vacation being filled with swings that matter.

So along with chatting with Coach in a nodding-yes and saying-mm-hmmm a lot kind of way, to start building trust, I stood around for a while, hands clasped at solar plexus to indicate open readiness. Hands clasped behind the back also indicates open readiness, so I stood around that way for a while, too; observing balls popping out of mitts like popcorn or jumping beans.

In my bag I had foam pads specifically designed to get kids to use two hands, but they’ll keep. The players looked earnest and that is a big part of the entire enterprise. You can’t fake your way on base or fake making a play or fake throwing a strike. In baseball, you have to mean it.

I observed the one kid who didn’t have a blue cap, so before I took off I gave my extra blue cap to Coach Bennie.

“Let’s make sure he knows it’s from you,” Coach Bennie said, being straight up. He called the kid over, saying, “Hey you, come here.”

The kid hustled, so that was good. He looked about 14, still plenty of growth ahead, with a confident but not-cocky vibe and that shock of black hair.

I asked him his name and in a forthright voice he said Clarence.

“All right, Clarence,” I told him. “I’m Coach Go.” It’s great when you have the chance to make up your own name and you pick a good one. “Every player needs a cap, and this one is yours.”

He said thanks, I said you’re welcome, he ran back in line, Coach Bennie gave me the peace sign, and that was my first day coaching.