And thus begins another season of San Francisco Little League baseball….
I’ve just returned from 90 minutes with my new group of fresh-faced, mostly 8 year-olds. Best 90 minutes I’ve spent in recent memory. Felt more like 15 minutes. Maybe fewer than that. Not nearly long enough.
I’ve been coaching Little League now for something on the order of 14 or 15 seasons. I can’t believe I get to do this year after year. It has become a big part of who I am. By now, I have a decent handle on the car trunk full of the requisite gear: polyester jerseys, rationed-out bats, helmets and first aid kits. All of which will fill my trunk and hurt my gas mileage for the next few months.
But I have learned that there are, in particular, a couple of very key ingredients that are the most important:
– One white plastic bucket that used to hold paint or maybe plaster or stucco. Now it holds approximately 55 baseballs accumulated over the course of the aforementioned seasons coached. These 55 balls are the backbone of our season. They will suffer through rain, cold, mud, fog, regular beatings from metal bats and from my wooden fungo, and hopefully some baking sunshine on occasion. They will generally be stuffed into the plaster bucket, musty canvas bags, and dark car trunks, unceremoniously. With nary a complaint. But they will never be left behind, forgotten about in the high grass after a long practice or chaotic late-inning frenzy. I have a strict “No dun sphere left behind” policy.
Some of the 55 in my bucket have been in the mix since my 12 year-old was a 5 year-old. Some have been scarred by permanent black-markered letters. A “B” to distinguish our balls from others’, for sure.
A couple tattooed with “Nice Catch!” or “My Man!” As Max grew older, I’d hit high and l-o-n-g fly balls to him in the outfield at a park near our flat. Just the two of us. I’d scribble one phrase or another on the ball, toss it up with my left hand and crush it with a wooden bat gripped by my 2 hands. Max would manage to corral it (or not), and read my message scrawled between the seams. Big smile, visible even from deep in the outfield. This is good stuff, and pulling these particular old balls up from the bottom of my bucket, unexpectedly during a practice years later, feels pretty damn good.
– One 45 year-old right-shouldered rotator cuff. Has served me well over the years, and seems to be holding up surprisingly OK. Thankfully I wasn’t much of a pitcher as a kid, so I unwittingly managed to save my arm for my own kids some 30 years later.
Over the course of a season (and I am coaching both sons’ teams), I reckon I will throw perhaps 40,000 “pitches” to kids weighing between 60 and 160 pounds. In about a month from today, this will start to catch up with me. My shoulder will ache. I’ll be in the habit of stuffing my back pocket with a dozen or so Advils at all times, and swimming in the Bay–about which I am truly passionate–will be painful. Each reach and pull with my right arm feels a tiny bit nauseating.
I will gladly sacrifice the various parts of my right shoulder as the season wears on. What are those parts for, if not to bond with these boys, maybe teach them a few technical pieces here and there, but most importantly to teach them to love that bucket of balls as I do. And to appreciate what that bucket of balls will teach them (and me) over the course of the long season.
So the Little League season is here. My bucket of red-stitched balls is ready. My shoulder is fresh. Bring it on, boys. Release the Hounds!
Thanks for reading.