There is crying in softball
In terms of the game itself, I was no newcomer.
I’d been lacing ’em up ever since my big brother first joined a baseball team, which means I started shagging fly balls and taking cuts in practices when I was around 4 years old.
And I was no rookie coach, either.
I had helped with youth sports squads over the years and actually led a Little League baseball team while I was living as a bachelor in a small town back in Indiana.
But when it came to coaching girls softball, it became clear very early on this spring that I was in for an eye-opening experience with the Flames.
And let me tell you something, no matter what Tom Hanks would have you believe … there is, in fact, crying in baseball.
In the Mini-Minors division ” ages 9-10 ” tears were flowing easily and often, and for reasons well beyond being hit by a pitch.
There was crying with strikeouts, with booted balls, with errant throws, with pitches off the mark and with names left off the lineup ” or perhaps names just appearing a bit further down the list than they would have liked.
Being the father of two young girls, I thought I was ready for the drama. But truth be told, I was taken aback time and time again, when the water works would start for what seemed to be no reason at all.
OK, so there weren’t always actual tears, but there were plenty of frowns following the games we lost ” or the plate appearances in which we came up empty.
It made me wonder whether we actually were having fun out there, which is the whole point of playing the game.
I would watch in amazement as our infielders stood silent, hands on hips or chins buried in chests. I couldn’t tell if they were depressed or detached, either just bored by the game or broken down by their disappointment in playing it.
Actually, it turned out they cared ” dare I say it ” too much.
They were having fun, but they just weren’t pleased with their performance. Even though many members of our team were first-year players, most expected more of themselves than their coaches did.
There are 32 teams in the Nevada County Girls Softball Association, which means more than 300 girls were out there this spring and summer giving the game their best shot.
And I’d be willing to bet the majority of them are their own toughest critic. Soon, I found myself playing the role more of a cheerleader than of a coach (although I still let the girls handle the dugout chants themselves).
So I huddled them up after we ended up on the short end of one particularly tough contest, a loss that clearly was going to start everybody’s Saturday afternoon on a down note.
I told them how proud I was of the way they had played and that they can’t let the little things get to them in this demanding game ” one so tough that if you fail two out of three times at the plate, you’re actually doing quite well.
But no matter what I said, I just couldn’t seem to reach them. They were having none of it. They knew they’d lost and there was nothing I could do to change that.
And so I stuck my hand out and they followed by stacking their own on top, pulling everyone close in a tight circle
“Give me an ‘F’!” I shouted, which surprisingly sparked high-pitched screams that threatened the inner workings of my ear drums.
With each letter, as we spelled out the team’s name, the shouts only grew louder and the smiles only grew wider as their coach cringed from the audio assault on his senses.
And by the end, the girls were laughing as they skipped away to their parents, somehow seeming to suddenly have forgotten the game they’d just played ” as well as the coach now clapping his ears in hopes of regaining his ability to hear after such a cheer.
Look who’s crying now.
Brian Hamilton is sports editor at The Union, the Sun’s sister paper in Grass Valley. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.