Long Layoff Doesn’t Dim Coaching Skills

Published 10:10 am Thursday, October 20, 2016

LEESBURG, Va. — Things looked bleak for the West Loudin Bandits. Only seven teammates — girls, ages 7 and 8 — came to a chilly Saturday morning softball game. Even the head coach and his hard-hitting daughter were out of town.

The opposing team, the Storm, was fully staffed and eager, smelling blood.

The Bandits’ undefeated status was in jeopardy.

The assistant coach, my oldest son, was elevated to the top job for the day. He turned to me and said, “Want to coach third base?”

Of course I did, but I was an interloper in this northern Virginia town named for the great Gen. Robert E. Lee. North Carolinians are second class citizens here.

It had also been 22 years since I had been inside the ballfield fence. My oldest, Paul, started playing baseball at age 4. The younger sons never caught the baseball fever, side-lining my aspirations to be a Little League coaching legend.

I feared I had forgotten the rules and strategies.

If I muffed the job Saturday and the Bandits lost because of me, my very enthusiastic softball playing granddaughter would disown me.

Long ago I was a student of Davie County Little League gurus Bobo Whitaker and Danny Correll. I had watched the masters and taken notes. Always challenge the defense, they counseled. Send the base runner and expect the other team to make errors.

Even short-handed, the Bandits’ defense was stellar. It’s rare for girls that age to catch pop flies, but the Bandits caught two or three for outs. They threw runners out at first and had forced outs at home plate. No Storm hits reached the outfield, protected by a lone right-center-left fielder.

On offense, the Bandits rarely struck out. They put the ball in play, and this third base coach displayed my best windmill motion — to run home. The girls must not have known that very common baseball signal. One runner stopped and looked at me quizzically. I knew what she was thinking: “Cayden’s grandpa is crazy!”

I changed to a traffic cop’s hand signals after that.

One of my base runners stopped politely when the third baseman blocked her path while chasing the ball.

“Get to the bag!” I yelled a little too loudly.

With bases loaded, I coached my runners to charge home as soon as they heard the crack of the bat. “Don’t hesitate. Don’t slow down. Go hard as you can.”

I made them repeat the instructions.

I did not tell my pretty little runners to mow down the catcher if she got in the way. That’s what my boys used to do.

The Bandits won 14-7. Still undefeated. And my granddaughter still thinks I’m special. Whew.

• • • • •

My youngest son is filling out college applications this month. On the common form accepted by most schools, applicants are asked to enter their “gender at birth.” Space was available to explain how the applicant was feeling about his or her gender at the moment.

Culturally, we’re going crazy.

• • • • •

Elizabeth and I went to Asheville on Friday and through the Shenandoah Valley on Saturday and Sunday. What we did not do was see beautiful fall leaves in the middle of October — usually the prime viewing time.

We haven’t had a serious cold snap yet. Temperatures are to be in the 80s this week. The prospect of a beautiful autumn leaf display is looking dim.

Soon, the green leaves are going to wilt and fall from exhaustion, not because they have turned colors.

– Dwight Sparks