Field of dreams and bubble gum

May 13, 1994|By Kevin Cowherd

Like most baseball fans, you've probably been waiting for an update on the Phillies, the Little League team of 11- and 12-year-olds that I coach along with two other dads, although we use the term "coach" loosely.

Right now we have a 3-1 record and are coming off a thrilling 6-5 win over the Cardinals that should have made the 11 o'clock news if these TV sports guys had any brains, which they don't.

The win over the Cards was very satisfying, since we blew a five-run lead as a result of team-wide case of the stupids, which caused us to throw the ball all over the field like it was a hand grenade.

But in the bottom of the sixth, Michael, our lead-off batter, got an infield hit and then John doubled in the gap in right-center and Greg drew an intentional walk.

So now we had bases loaded and no outs with our clean-up hitter, Sean, at the plate.

This triggered a quick huddle of the Phillies coaching staff, as fine a collection of baseball minds as the game has ever known. The conversation went like this:

"Let's have him bunt."

"No, no, swing away."

"Maybe he'll draw a walk."

All this brilliant strategy was negated, however, when Michael, who is very quick, took it upon himself to steal home with the

winning run.

Of course, if he had been thrown out, the coaching staff would have called for the boy to be caned right then and there, as an example of the consequences of irresponsible base-running.

But all's well that ends well, I always say. So instead of reaching for the length of moistened bamboo that we keep in the equipment bag, the coaches all joined in the wild celebration and chants of: "We didn't blow it! We didn't blow it!"

The thing is, we're playing much better than we did earlier in the season, when we developed the unfortunate habit of throwing the ball at each other without seeing if the other person was actually looking, resulting in numerous facial injuries.

This tended to severely disrupt our practices, since the injured players, suddenly confronted with a mouthful of blood and loose teeth, tend to want to lie down for a while.

We had so many players going down, I started to wonder if the field wasn't ringed by snipers.

At this point, the coaching staff decided that one way to cut down on the number of balls slamming into players' mouths was to have the players actually pay attention to what was happening on the field.

So we called a team meeting at which we said: "Look, it's the little things that win baseball games. So let's try staying alert out there and stopping the ball with our gloves instead of our mouths."

Thankfully, this seemed to work and we didn't have to resort to Plan B, which was to have our players wear hockey masks.

Our concentration was also not what it should be early on, as I discovered while delivering a stirring pep talk right before our first game.

Oh, I was all lathered up and went on and on about how important it was that we begin the season on a good note, that we hustle all the time and keep our head in the game and blah, blah, blah.

Anyway, the players hung on my every word. Or maybe they didn't, because when I asked if anyone had any questions, one boy raised his hand and said: "Who's got bubble gum?"

At this, eight other boys jumped up and began fishing in their pockets for bubble gum, which touched off a spirited discussion about the relative merits of Bubble Yum vs. Hubba Bubba.

When things settled down and I asked, OK, does anyone have a baseball-related question, another boy shouted: "Anyone bring sunflower seeds?"

When not delivering thoroughly forgettable pre-game talks, my main contribution consists of yelling: "Good eye!" to the batter when he doesn't swing at a pitch 10 feet over his head.

Actually, what the coaching staff does best is offer conflicting advice to each hitter as he steps to the plate, such as:

"Keep that bat still on your shoulder."

"Get that bat going, now."

"Make it be a strike."

"If it's anywhere close, you're swinging."

"Be aggressive up there."

"Take a pitch, see what he's got."

Twenty years from now, if these kids are all in therapy, reclining on a Scandinavian leather couch and sobbing to some $150-an-hour shrink about how their Little League coaches messed them up for life, I won't be surprised.

In any event, our next game is against the Rockies, and we fully expect to clobber them.

Unless something happens and we don't.

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