It was a warm summer evening. My son’s little league team was playing a team from the next town over. Our team was from Burton, Ohio and we were coached by a very talented coach, Mike, whose son was a gifted pitcher.
The opposing team was coached by a middle-aged mom, a really nice lady who clearly loved the kids, and certainly understood baseball and the basics but was not deep diving into the details of the game, the mechanics, so to speak. She was not supposed to be this team’s coach. The original coach was a truck driver who was called back to work and placed on an over-the-road route. In the absence of a coach, this mom graciously stepped in to coach her son’s team.
Our team enters the field with a strong winning record and the other team has yet to win a game, which is curious as they appear to be talented.
The game is a home game for us and the practice was that the home team provides the plate umpire and the visiting team provides the field umpire. The plate umpire, which in this case was me, calls balls and strikes and covers the home plate. The field umpire watches the bases and validates catches in the outfield. In the event of a disagreement the two umpires confer and make a decision.
So the game begins with me behind the home plate and the visiting team gets first up. Our team, with Mike’s son on the mound, is in the field. These are young kids. If I call a tight strike zone, and I know some purists are going to disagree with me, kids are going to walk, a lot, we will not be teaching them to be hitters, and the game will be boring so, I call a fairly wide and tall strike zone. More than once a parent complained but I asked “am I consistent” and all agreed I was and so I survived the hell that is parents of young athletes. (Open disclosure I was almost thrown out of a JV football game because I protested the officiating but, in that case I was right)
The visiting team gets some hits, scores a few runs so all looks good. Our team finally hands them their third out and our team is up to bat. Their pitcher warms up and starts throwing. His pitches are fast, they are sharp, they are all over the place. Even with my wide and tall strike zone, I had to call balls. These pitches were un-hittable and far outside the width-of-the-plate and shoulders-to-knees strike zone.
One by one our players were walked and many were walked all the way home. At this level there was a mercy rule, six runs in a row with no outs and the inning ends. This occurred more then once over the course of the game. Around mid way through the game I called time and spoke with Mike. I said, “ Wow, this kid has a hell of an arm but no control and their coach doesn’t have an answer.” Mike smiled and said, “Let’s get through the game; they will not be loosing many more games afterwards.”
I spoke with the other coach and team, made sure all was ok, and the game continued. Finally, mercifully, the game concludes, our team won, and the other team shakes hands and walks off dejected. Mike runs onto the field and asks the coach, the pitcher and the catcher to hold on. The pitcher steps back on the mound, the catcher returns to home plate, and Coach Mom watches. Mike has the pitcher throw a pitch and then he coaches him a tad on his mechanics. How high to kick his leg, his follow through, keeping his eye on the target, how to hold the ball and align the seams in his hand, and how to relax and pitch to the catcher. After several throws his pitches started to settle into a groove, one after another, pitcher to catcher, over the plate right, around chest high, and fast, very fast.
It was a simple story, and a simple event but still so powerful.
The pitcher came to life and smiled with relief.
Coach Mom took notes and became a better coach, in addition to her superlative mom skills.
And, that team was competitive in every game from then on.