The summer is almost here and I am knee deep into the toughest two-and-a-half months of coaching I have all year. You might think that has something to do with Bearcat women’s basketball. That does consume a lot of time, but I’m talking about a real coaching challenge. Coaching is teaching and sometimes this coaching job looks like I can’t teach a thing. These two-and-a-half months are nerve racking, frustrating at times, rewarding at times and always, always a challenge. Of course, I’m talking about coaching my son’s Little League team.
My co-coach is Bob Sundell. To anyone in the league, we are Maryville #3. If you read our uniform, we are Anderson-Sundell, Bob’s law firm that sponsors our team. His son, Jalen, plays on the team with my son, Sam. Bob and I have coached baseball for our son’s teams since they were playing T-ball at 5-years-old. Some very funny things have happened in the six years of baseball. Maybe they weren’t always funny at the time, but looking back they make me smile.
Probably the greatest moment defensively for our T-ball team came when Sam and Jalen were only five. There aren’t many great moments on defense for a T-ball squad. We always rotated players so everyone had a chance to play every position. No score was kept, so the players thought we finished the year 12 – 0. However, there was that one moment where something very unusual happened – a quadruple play. I know most people think there are only three outs per inning, but in T-ball, everyone bats each inning. Technically, you could have 10 or 11 outs in an inning, but that never happens. During most T-ball games, one or two outs per inning were reason for a post-game celebration. However, one special night, the Maryville Host Lions, the name of our team, came up with four outs in one inning.
Keyton Pettlon, one of Sam and Jalen’s classmates at Horace Mann Lab School, was pitching. You don’t really pitch in T-ball, but you stand by the pitching rubber. The bases were loaded and our opponent’s biggest hitter was teeing up the ball. This kid weighed about twice the size of Sam and you could tell he wanted a grand slam homer. However, he topped the ball and it dribbled back to Keyton. As parents, coaches and fans yelled, Keyton somehow managed to figure out if he ran home and touched home plate, we would get a force out. That’s just what he did and beat the runner by a couple of steps.
While all this was going on, the Babe-Ruth-type hitter still was banking on that grand slam homer. He rounded first and just kept going. The other two runners looked up and saw the biggest kid on the team barreling toward them on the base paths. They did the only logic thing; they kept running. Bob and I got Keyton’s attention. We told him to tag each kid as they approached home. The big kid kept running and Keyton kept tagging, and pretty soon, we had recorded four outs, including the big kid with his heart set on a grand slam homer. Guess what happened next? In the true spirit of T-ball, we let all the runners go back to their bases so they could get the glory of rounding those bases one more time.
Sam has about every baseball movie ever made. He especially enjoys one called Rookie of the Year. In that movie, a kid plays for the Cubs. In one game, the kid pulls the hidden ball trick. Sam thought that was the coolest thing. I didn’t know he would take it to the field in a T-ball game. Sam was playing third base. This is still in T-ball with 5- and 6-year-olds. I don’t know how he got the ball with a runner on third, but Sam was about to try the hidden ball trick. First, Sam tagged the runner who was standing safely on the bag. Then in his best umpire impression, he threw his fist forward and yelled, “You’re out!” Of course the runner wasn’t out, but Sam sold it enough that the kid started to walk to the dugout. Suddenly, Sam pulled the ball from his glove and tagged the runner a couple of steps off the bag. He then gave another exaggerated “out” signal. The kid lowered his head and walked to the dugout. Again, in the true spirit of T-ball, we told the runner he could go back to third. However, he chose to go to the dugout since he was crying so hard after being duped with the hidden ball trick.
We pulled an even bigger trick this year. We had a triple play that wasn’t a triple play but stayed a triple play. That might not make much sense, but it will if I can explain what happened. Our team, Anderson-Sundell, was facing the Albany Green team. I’m not exactly sure how it all started, but with runners on first and second, the batter hit a line drive to our shortstop. He then tagged the runner that had wondered off second base for an apparent double play. It then got a little confusing. I thought, as did the umpire and the Albany coach, that the runner at first had tagged up and ran to third. He stood on the bag a long time, then walked slowly to the dugout, apparently thinking there were three outs in the inning. However, there were only two outs. Mason Walk was our third baseman. I yelled at him to walk to the dugout and tag out the runner. Mason had a little trouble picking out which kid in the dugout was the runner, but finally he tagged a kid that looked like he was trying to get back to third. The umpire called him out and we had our triple play.
Albany came out on the field and their pitcher started his warm-up tosses. About four minutes later, the kid that was tagged out wondering off second had a question. He wanted to know how he could make two outs on the same play. Apparently, after being tagged out, he decided to stand on third, hoping nobody would notice he was still out on the field. The kid had a point. However, since the game wasn’t close and Albany had already warmed up, the triple play was allowed to stand for the sake of the time limit. It was the triple play that wasn’t a triple play.
Sam and I have been going to a lot of baseball games since he was too young to remember. At one-and-a-half, Sam found himself on the big screen at Kaufman Stadium in Kansas City. He was dozing as were about half of the 2,000 or so in attendance on a cool, spring night. When he was four, he visited Wrigley Field. We took the L to the game and a city bus back to our cars. You have to experience the culture, don’t you? At five, it was the Metrodome in Minneapolis. We took a train from the Mall of America. The Mall had an air conditioned Camp Snoopy. That’s killing two birds with one stone.
Things took a serious turn when Sam hit six years old. Now, with two years of organized baseball under his belt (T-ball), the family headed to St. Louis to see the new Busch Stadium. Despite losing three in a row, the Cardinals went on to win the World Series. At 7-years-old, Sam wanted to see the Colorado Rockies. Despite being abused by the Cubs for three games, the Rockies went on to win 20 in a row late in the season and played in the World Series. When Sam turned eight, he had his mind set on the Tampa Bay Rays. They had just changed their names from the Devil Rays to the Rays and it must have worked. Despite never having a winning record in their history, the Rays beat the Tigers three times, while losing once to the Indians while we were in the stands. Then it was on to the World Series for the Rays. Age nine meant more Rays baseball. That was last summer. He was selected with three other kids to sing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” during the seventh-inning stretch. Team personnel ushered them to the press box and broadcasted the 9-year-olds singing slightly off key. You could view all this on the giant screen inside the Trop.
We made the Royals home opener this year. We’ve seen Zach Greinke get beat twice, almost froze one game and roasted another. Baseball is always on at our house. Sponge Bob takes a back seat when the Royals come on. With all this baseball, Sam takes many of the traits he witnesses with the major leagues to the Little Leagues. He drives me nuts with batting stances of Derek Jeter and Mike Aviles. Sam has picked up bad habits, too. He often throws his helmet or bat if he strikes out and tosses his glove in frustration if he is taken out of the game by his coach (me). I try to discipline my son, but for the most part, it’s had limited success. He recently started something his mother hates, but I think is hilarious. He spits all the time. Thank goodness he doesn’t chew.
Sunday was the last day of Sunday School class before summer break for Sam and his fourth grade friends at St. Gregory’s Catholic Church. The class went to the bowling alley for a final activity. Bearcat Bowl recently installed a couple of flat screen TV’s on each side of the alleys. Guess what Sam asked them to put on the air? You guessed it, the Royals and the Rockies. His Sunday School teacher very seriously pulled me aside to tell me about Sam’s habits of devotion. She said, “About 90 percent of the time, when we pray on Sunday’s, Sam prays for a sports team.” I wish he would spend some of that pray on the coach of his Little League team.