Rain is only thing a baseball coach can count on these days

SATURDAY'S HERO

June 12, 1993|By ROB KASPER

Today the baseball season ends for a lot of kids, including the Comets, the team of 7- and 8-years-olds I coached in the Roland Park Baseball Leagues. Years ago kids played Little League baseball until Labor Day. But nowadays with summer camps, swim teams and family vacations slicing up the summer, many leagues wind up their baseball seasons in June.

The end of monsoon season is a fitting time for me to step down as manager. For while the Comets had a good year (seven wins, three losses, two "others"), I'm sure we led the league in precipitation.

Half our scheduled games were either rained on, rained out or mud-affected.

One soggy classic stretched out over three days. It started and almost ended on a Wednesday. Then, when the other team had two runners on, lightning flashed, the skies opened and the whole assemblage, including some pretty angry parents who thought it was foolish to play in such weather, went scurrying for their cars.

We finished the game two days later in the sunshine when the Blue Jays, no longer in fear of the heavens, rallied to beat us 12-11. Looking back, the angry parents were right. It was stupid to try to play in between thunderstorms. But I was a rookie coach under a lot of pressure early in the season. My biggest fear wasn't losing, it was rescheduling.

Whenever I dialed those 15 phone numbers to tell my players' parents that a rained-out game was being moved, I would hear reports of schedule conflicts. Kids would have lacrosse games or family gatherings or school functions.

For one rescheduled game, a First Communion party threatened to wipe out the heart of my defense, the Mahoney brothers and their two pals, Bobby and Patrick. Another time a gymnastic performance by a big sister threatened to take away my long-ball threat, Carter.

Gradually, I learned what veteran coaches already knew, that you can't fight the calendar. You just pencil in the new date and count heads.

Here are a few other things I learned during the two months I was a man called "coach."

* The more outfielders you play, the smaller the chance of getting anybody out. At this beginning level, a team usually played four outfielders. But sometimes coaches agreed to clear the benches and put extra players in the outfield. As the number of outfielders increased, so did the social life. Instead of watching the batter, outfielders talked to one other. Any ball hit in the direction of these conversation groups had a good chance of scooting through.

* No matter how many batting helmets you have -- and at one point we tripled our supply -- the players will only wear one, maybe two, of the helmets.

* No matter how many baseballs you start the season with, and I think we started with 24 bright new ones, by the end of the season you're lucky to end up with one scuffed ball. The others have "disappeared."

* No matter how often you think you have the game figured out, the kids on your team and the opposing teams will surprise you.

The once-unsteady gloves of Scott and Daniel suddenly will start to snare wicked line drives. The two Michaels, who were striking out early in the season, will one day begin to hit towering drives to the outfield. The once-timorous 7-year-olds, Gabe, Matthew, Will, Nicholas and Anthony, will start to swagger to the plate.

And try as you might to be a fierce leader of the Comets, you will find yourself saying "nice play" to the Hawks' shortstop, the Kings' first baseman, the Panthers' third sacker, the Eagles' second basemen, or to Graham, the sure-handed Pirate who calmly snagged the shot that had sent you, the pitcher, diving for cover.

* No matter how insightful you think you are, the kids will keep you humble. Often my assistant coach, Phil Moeller, and I would holler instructions at our fielders. Sometimes the kids paid attention to us, and sometimes not. But when Jack, our team leader, told the kids to back up, they backed up. Jack could catch. The kids weren't sure about the coaches.

* Finally, I learned that memorable games often fall not in won or lost columns, but in the "other" column. We were three players short when we played the Clippers. But they sent us two volunteers, Stewart and Joshua, who along with Austin, a walk-on, sparked a late-inning rally that ended in a dramatic 16-16 tie.

Virtually every time we tried to play the Barrons it rained. So finally we gave up. Today we play the Braves again. Just for fun.

And because it isn't raining.

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