little league

My Final Season (and So It Begins….)


This is what Opening Day looks like in San Francisco.  Technically not “Opening Day.” That event and its annual parade was actually cancelled a weekend ago. The rainy conditions introduced the unpleasant prospect of baseball-cleated pre-teens sliding around in the payload of rented pickup trucks like a pile of slippery mackerel.  This would have been my last San Francisco Little League Opening Day Parade, since my younger son will graduate out at the end of the current season.  I’ll get over it, but I would have liked just one more trip around the block with a pile of fish. 

Even after 12 or 13 years of these rides, I can almost remember each.  When loaded with a dozen 50-pound first-graders, space comes at a premium back there for coaches who haven’t seen first grade and 50 pounds since 1975. Sixth-graders now, the players on my Majors A’s team this year have doubled in size from their first-grade selves. We coaches have, maybe, added a few pounds here and there as well. Sitting in the open air on the bump of a metal wheel well, pinching one’s knees together as the driver careens around the Marina, the players rhythmically banging their fists on the quarter panels, sounds, objectively speaking, undesirable. But I would have liked to take one more spin around the neighborhood, my own hand stinging at the end of it (it’s not just the kids that do the banging). 

Thankfully, lightning and sneakers losing purchase and liability did not come into play for our team’s actual first game, which transpired this past weekend.  This is not to say that my boys (it’s only boys this season) pranced around in the bluebird skies, blazing sunshine, and fresh cut grass from my youth. Nope. I suspect our field had recently played host to a lacrosse game or rugby match or Friday evening adult softball game featuring a keg drained down in the visitor’s dugout. The field has seen better days. I can’t blame the outfield, pockmarked with ankle-twisting gopher holes, on those other folks, though.  That’s just nature.  The kids have been navigating those vermin-built land mines for so long, we don’t even bother mentioning this hazard to our right fielders anymore. 

Gopher holes? What gopher holes?  

The unusually heavy fog added an interesting variable to the mix. The Golden Gate Bridge’s fog horn moaned the entire night before our game.  The late evening news weatherman, his opinion seconded by the opposing team’s head coach, said it would be thick.  He was right.  At 7:15am on Saturday morning, the fog bank operated as a de facto outfield fence.  If any player was able to jack one out into the fog, literally hitting the ball out of sight, I suspect the home plate umpire would happily circle his index finger in the air.  That would be a very cool sight, and I wouldn’t care whether our team did it, or their team did. 

Fog? What fog?

Given the paucity of playable fields within the 7 mile by 7 mile footprint of San Francisco proper, the League struggles mightily to accommodate the 1,000+ rabid little leaguers with crooked caps and untied shoelaces. Hence our 8am game on Saturday.  My team’s players, presumably still bleary-eyed from an all-night Fortnight video game bender, drifted onto the field one and two and three at-a-time; eventually comprising a full quorum by the time the umpire requested my hand-written lineup. Our pre-game drills turned just-unwrapped official league baseballs into the heavy dirty gummy dun spheres on display at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.  I whack a brand-spanking new ball with my fungo bat out into the outfield, someone (hopefully, eventually, corrals it), and throws back to me an unrecognizeable ball covered in mud as though it had time-traveled (backwards or forwards, I’m not sure which).  But none of the players and none of the coaches complained about the mud balls.   

Mud balls? What mud balls?

As it turns out, we got our butts kicked on Saturday morning.  Wasn’t much of a contest, really. Sure, we talked about it after the game.  A little bit. The strikeouts and botched plays and missed steal signs and such.  But that stuff hardly mattered as we all knelt in the still-wet grass surrounded by the still-lingering fog. I glanced around this semi-circle of boys, ready smiles on their faces, some giggling and poking at each other, no hints of dejection or disappointment over why didn’t I swing at that third strike. In that moment, I thought to myself, “getting our butts kicked never felt so good.” 

This is my last season, and I’ve resolved to savor every moment of it.  So bring on the rain and fog and gophers and mud balls.   

I am not an animal.


I think I know how the “Elephant Man” felt.

The Englishman Joseph Carey Merrick suffered from a rare, never-quite-determined illness or two that caused a number of grotesque deformities, formed the basis of a traveling show featuring Joseph as a human curiosity, and later inspired at least one theatrical plan and feature film.  Joseph was evidently miserable, and evidently also of enormous interest to showmen, doctors, royalty, and ticket-holding penny gaff patrons.

For nearly two weeks, I’ve been staggering through my days trying to remember when, exactly, I was struck by a car while riding my bike.  Or tackled unexpectedly by an overzealous, old friend.  Or inadvertently struck in the side of the head with an aluminum baseball bat.  Or maybe bitten by a blood-thirsty tick carrying one or another malevolent species of bacteria. Those are the only logical explanations I can can conjure up to explain how I’ve been feeling. But as far as I can remember, none of those potential explanations are based in reality.  None of them happened.

I have been knocked sideways by what feels like a dislocated shoulder, a sore sternocleidomastoid neck muscle consistent with the aftermath of swimming the English Channel, and an intermittent throbbing below my ear.  There are far worse health problems than mine, absolutely.  But I am not accustomed to this.

I haven’t taken a stroke in the Bay, a jogging step in my zero drop shoes, or a spin on my bike for nearly two weeks.  I have a race less than two weeks from today.  It’s not that I’m worried about finishing the race, or being adequately trained.  It’s that whatever ails me is preventing me from moving my body the way it has to move for a couple hours to even do the race.  I couldn’t zip up my wetsuit right now if my life depended upon it, for example, let alone go out and crawl around the Bay with 1,000 others.

More importantly, we’re in the heart of Little League playoffs season right now.  Both of my sons’ teams are playing.  They and all of their teammates are all kinds of fired up.  I live for this time of year.  In my current condition, if I foolishly burn through a bucket of ground balls with my fungo, the next morning will give me a hint of what it must feel like to be shot in the shoulder.  So I don’t hit infield.  Normally, my throwing shoulder is bone-weary by now, just from the sheer number of balls thrown during batting practice and father-son games of “catch” over the past few months.  In the past, I’ve complained about that seasonal ache.  I now ache for that trivial, seasonal ache.  At the moment, I am unable to raise my hand above my shoulder without wincing in pain.  So that means no throwing BP, no “coach-pitch” relief during my Little League games when our pitcher has been overly wild on the mound, and no easy game of catch with my boys.  Sure, I can catch just fine.  It’s the throwing part.  I’m reduced to underhand tosses.  And even those don’t feel particularly good.

In short, I’m miserable.

And apparently, like Joe Merrick, quite a curiosity to doctors.

My own doctor has been a champ through this.  Chatting with me after-hours on the phone. Speeding blood work results through the lab’s otherwise arthritic process.  Assuring me that eating ibuprofen like M&Ms is OK for the time being.  And showing genuine empathy for my situation, even though I know she has patients with far more serious maladies.

All of that is true.

But I am now beginning to suspect that I’m not far from the penny gaff myself.   This mysterious, pain-inducing thing knocking around inside of me is a Rubic’s Cube for my doctor.   I just want it to go away.   But my doctor has begun saying things like “infectious disease specialists,” “more blood work,” and “my colleagues.” Saying those words with a barely-detectible hint of excitement in her voice that I would rather not be detecting.

I think she is already working on the creative brief for the P. T. Barnum-style poster announcing my imminent arrival in your town.  I think she has begun drafting the speech for the barker posturing out in front of the tent.

“Step right up, folks.  You won’t want to miss this.  We have the death-defying Human Cannonball.  See him shot right out of a cannon before your very eyes.  We have Fire-Boy. The man who eats and drinks fire same as you and I eat a hearty meal.  We have Billy, the famous two-headed goat. And get this folks, for the first time ever, we bring you our newest, feature attraction:  The Whimpering Little League Coach. Reduced to throwing underhand!  That’s right, you’ll have to see it to believe it!  Has the devil taken hold of him?  Could be, folks, could be. Step right up!”

So like I said.  Miserable.  But evidently, too, of enormous interest.  Step right up.

Thanks for reading.