An Open Letter to NFL Defensive Coach Monte Kiffin
Dear Mr. Kiffin:
When I was 13 you were my little league baseball coach. Of course you were also the linebacker coach for the Minnesota Vikings and would later spend 12 years as the defensive coordinator for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers where you would win a super bowl and become one of the most respected defensive coaches in the game, but that’s neither here nor there. The point is that you were the coach of my little league baseball team in 1989 in Bloomington, Minnesota.
Your son, Lane, was also on the team. He was very, very good at baseball. I was not. In fact, I was bad at baseball. Really, really bad even. I think the season you were in my coach was my seventh season of little league and I had probably amassed — over the years and including tee-ball — about seven base hits total. Once I reached the age where the kids started pitching the games I would do my best to coax a walk and maybe score a run but most of games ended with me going 0–3 with a couple of strike outs an error and maybe, just maybe, a seven hopper to shortstop that produced at least a marginally close play at first.
The season you were my coach started as expected, with me being really bad at baseball. In the first game of the season — a scrimmage — I struck out in my first at bat and as I was walking back to the dugout I threw my bat and helmet in disgust at myself for being so continually shitty at the game of baseball, a game that I had loved since I was old enough to walk.
But, boy oh boy, Monte, you were having none of that kind of behavior. You walked over to me on the bench, grabbed my arm, got in my face and let me have it like I was a professional linebacker who had just got called for roughing the quarterback on third and forever. “We do — DO NOT — throw our bat and helmet on this team,” you shouted in my face with the same voice that would later inspire 50+ 300 pound world class athletes to the pinnacle of their chosen profession. “WE DON’T DO THAT ON THIS TEAM. YOU GOT THAT!? YOU GOT THAT!?”
I course, started to cry. The kid next to me — who you, Monte, would at the end of the season give the game ball to for being the most stand-up guy on the team despite not being nearly as good as your own son — told me not to worry about it. That everybody strikes out. He didn’t understand that I was crying not because I had struck out — I mean, I had struck out like seriously 200 times over the years — but because you, Monte, had yelled at me in front of the entire team, in front of all the parents, in front of my parents, in front of my dad.
I don’t remember the name of the kid who consoled me, but I remember him doing so. A 13 year old kid consoling another 13 year old kid who was crying at a little league game. I don’t remember his name, but I bet he grew up to be a pretty good guy.
I do, however, remember that you, Monte, called my house the weekend after the strike out and the yelling. I wasn’t home but you told my parents to tell me that you were sorry and that you hoped I wouldn’t quit the team.
I thought that was pretty cool. I still do.
And you know what happened next, Monte? All of a sudden I was not completely horrible at baseball. I mean. I was still not good, but I wasn’t terrible. I would get hits — into the outfield even! — and you played me at first base, something no coach had ever tried. I don’t remember if our team was any good that season, but I know without a doubt that it was by far the best — and most fun — season of my little league career. I mean, it’s not even close. Not by a long shot.
It was also my last season of little league. That fall my dad would die and I would kind of lose interest not just in baseball but in being a kid. I was forced to grow up and face the reality that life is kind of shitty a lot of the time. And so that summer was not just my last season of little league, it was the last summer of my childhood. And so I wanted to write this letter to thank you, Mr. Kiffin, for giving that skinny 13 year old kid with glasses who loved — LOVED — baseball, a chance to not suck at it for just a couple months. To go 1–3 with an infield single and a walk. To see my dad pump his fist at me with pride as I stood on second base after a double into the gap in right. To go out for pizza after the game and feel like part of the team. You did that. And I wanted to thank you. You are that special kind of person who brings out the best in people, and I’m pretty lucky that you decided to share a little bit of that gift with me all those years ago.
So: thanks, Mr. Kiffin.