From the time I was eight years old through my early 20's my entire life was baseball. I played in the spring which included all-stars, then travel ball most every summer. I played in the fall also which was my least favorite time because I did not enjoy playing in cold weather. During winter I traveled to baseball camps in south Florida to hone my skills. My position was catcher. I excelled at "calling a game" and few dared to attempt to steal a base on me. Unfortunately my thriving baseball career hit a major road block during my junior year of high school (1988) when I suffered from a tremendous intestinal injury. I was never the same player after my injury. I spent my first two years of college playing at small schools but my intestinal issues were horrible. At this point, it was time to end my quest to be in the major leagues.
Fast forward to 2010. Twenty- two years after my intestinal injury virtually ended my hopes of making a career out of baseball. My son, William, was a one-year old, and I was on the back end of many intestinal issues that had plagued me for so long. Sadly for a variety of troubling reasons I have not spoken to my dad since 2010. I also do not have any fond memories of my dad coaching me in organized league sports, therefore I made a vow to my wife (Meredith) that I would never coach any of our children in team sports.
Willam began showing signs of baseball talent at the age of four and expressed interest in playing tee-ball this past winter. We began practicing his hitting on a consistent basis. At first I would set up whiffle balls for him to hit off a tee. He could flat out hit the ball hard! I was impressed. Quickly we moved to me pitching him batting practice and he kept improving. The most fulfilling and important thing for me to see was that he enjoyed baseball and he was having fun.
One evening in March of this year while Meredith was out with some friends an e-mail from South Buncombe County Youth Sports arrived in my in-box. I was enjoying one, maybe three glasses of wine at the time. The e-mail contained information on how and when to sign up for 5-6 year old little league baseball. The e-mail also mentioned that they needed coaches.
Before I knew what had happened my promise to Meredith about never coaching any of our children in organized sports went awry. My thinking or lack of thinking was that I wanted to make sure that if William was going to play baseball then I wanted him to have fun first and foremost. I knew at the very least that I could and would make the season fun for him. I did not want him to get on an overly competitive team because I believe that 5-6 year old baseball should be more about introducing kids to baseball and teaching them basic fundamentals.
Once I clicked those keys on our computer, without discussing with Meredith that was it. I had committed to coaching and William had committed to playing. It was set in stone! The next day I came clean to Meredith. To say that my semi-buzzed decision to coach our son's baseball team would cause friction in the harmony of our marriage over the next few weeks would be a drastic understatement. She was not happy for multiple reasons and I totally understood all of them. However, I knew that one day, I would never have regrets about my decision.
Our crazy life with three children was about to get crazier. Meredith was just starting real estate school and was going to be in class on Monday and Thursday nights from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. from March until June. I am a yoga teacher in Asheville and have a regular class on Tuesday evenings at 6:30 p.m. Our four year old girl, Rosie, was also in a ballet class on Tuesday at 5:45 p.m. So that meant that our only free nights of the week were going to be Wednesdays and Fridays. Meredith began to slightly ease up on me but only if I could guarantee that baseball would not interfere with her real estate class schedule because I would have to be with all three of our children on the Monday and Thursday nights when she would be in class. The initial baseball schedule came out and we were supposed to practice two days per week. Saturday was one of those days and that was fine but the other day that the league assigned to me was Thursday evenings at 6:45 p.m. That was pretty much going to be impossible. Crossing my fingers I immediately contacted the league scheduler. I pleaded my case and was able to get our Thursday practice moved to Fridays at 6:45 p.m. instead.
Once we had our practice schedule confirmed I reached out to the parents of our team, the 2016, 5-6 year old Royals of South Buncombe County Youth Sports and my coaching career was underway. William was excited and I was nervous.
Our first practice was on a cool April evening. I quickly realized that coaching was not going to be easy and a lot of my job would be babysitting. Again, I reminded myself to make sure to keep it fun!! Even though I spent most of my youth playing baseball, I had not personally thrown or caught a baseball in years. Within the first five minutes of our first practice of the spring, a player threw a ball to me that was way out of my reach. In my attempt to catch it, I fell backwards and landed awkwardly. I felt and heard the inside of my right knee pop. It hurt and I collapsed. I did my best to stand up but was in pain and my knee felt unstable. Was that karma biting me on my ass like it has done so many times before in my life? Multiple doubts immediately flooded my head. Had I seriously hurt my knee? Was this a sign that I was not supposed to be doing this? It was a rough next 48 hours of physical pain and mental anguish for me. I finished practice that night almost collapsing on my unstable knee several more times. When I arrived home, I could barely walk and immediately iced my knee. That night was horrible. Every movement was painful. For whatever reason, I alternated between cold chills and hot sweats when trying to sleep. Although Meredith was compassionate towards my knee pain, there was a hint of bewilderment in her attitude which was understandable.
Although it would take my knee the entire season to heel back to 100%, it did begin to feel better a few days later. We settled into a Friday evening and Saturday morning practice schedule for over a month. I was enjoying my time coaching, and the players on our team were showing signs of great improvement. Most of these children did not know or understand the basic rules of baseball. I was having a lot of fun teaching them, and I had many great parents helping me teach. We were anxiously awaiting for our league to release the game schedule.
Our game schedule was finally released, and my jaw dropped to the floor when I saw our game days which were to be on Tuesday and Thursday evenings at 6 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays were our worst possible option. I began scrambling to find a sub that could cover my Tuesday evening yoga class for the next seven weeks while Meredith continued taking the girls to Rosie's ballet class. With Meredith in real estate school on Thursday nights, we had to hire a baby sitter to watch our two younger girls so I could handle my coaching duties kid free. There were a few Thursday nights that our babysitter could not help us out, so I found myself coaching while carrying a 22-month old baby and keeping an eye on our four-year-old girl at the same time.
Our team was blessed with 12 great kids with positive attitudes. In particular, one of our players impacted me in a special way. I noticed that one player required much more attention than the other boys on our team. I was informed by the boys grandfather that he was Autistic and had a severe case of ADHD. Up until this point in my life, I had zero experience with Autism and ADHD. I was doing my best but was having a difficult time dividing my necessary attention between him and the other 11 kids on our team. When our games started, things got much more difficult for me. It was almost impossible to hold his attention. Virtually every time he was supposed to bat I would have to carry him to the batters box. Usually he would be kicking and screaming sometimes even trying to hit me with the bat in his hands. If I was lucky enough to get him to stay in the batters box, he would often use his bat to violently strike his helmet with the bat several times in a row. I would do my best to gain eye contact with him while trying to calm him down and hoping to make him feel comfortable. Sometimes it seemed like his eyes would shake individually. I was not sure if that was his medications seeping through or the Autism. When our team was in the field, playing defense he only wanted to draw in the dirt with his hands. I was not sure if I was handling him as compassionately as necessary, so I had many conversations with the boys family making sure they were OK with my efforts to include him in our games. Without fail before every game, the boy would run up to me and give me a huge hug which made me feel great. Also without fail, if he was not involved in the post game handshake, then a melt-down was surely to ensue. Although my personal experience with an Autistic child was emotionally and physically draining, it was invaluable for me. It reminded me and continues to remind me to stay compassionate on a constant basis. It also made me feel that there could NEVER be enough attention brought to Autism awareness and Autistic people. My experience with this sweet child will stay with me for the rest of my life, and I am thankful for the amount of trust his family gave me.
I am incredibly grateful to all the parents of the players on our team for trusting me with their kids. We came a long way, and I saw improvement in every player. Most importantly we kept youth baseball fun! I am not sure if I will coach next year but know that this year was beneficial for me on a personal level, and I will never forget my first coaching experience! Thank you for reading my blog and please scroll down to see a few images I captured during the season.