I’ve never been into baseball. The way I see it, there’s nothing you can decide in nine innings that you can’t decide in one. So it’s kind of surprising that I somehow ended up as a coach for my seven-year-old son Daniel’s “Yiddle League team.”
Yiddle League is like Little League except parents spend less time shouting at the coach.
Yiddle League is a local Jewish baseball program, just like Little League, except that the parents spend less time shouting at the coach, thank goodness. Each player gets a cap and shirt of his team’s color, generously sponsored by a local business on the condition that the shirts are plastered with its logo. My younger son Heshy’s team is sponsored by a dry cleaner, which is a great idea, considering all the parents sitting on the sidelines and watching their kids slide around in the mud. Daniel’s team, meanwhile, is sponsored by an injury lawyer, so I feel bad for whichever team is playing against them.
But then, about a week before the games started, I found out that Daniel’s team was in danger of being cancelled, due to the lack of any parents volunteering to be coaches.
Now the truth is that I’m not really qualified to be a coach. I can barely even coach my own kids. Most of the other dads, when their sons are at bat, stand on the sidelines and shout helpful advice, such as, “Bend your elbows!” But I don’t know about any of that stuff. I shout more practical advice, like, “Try not to get hit by the ball!”
Nevertheless, the last thing I wanted was for Daniel’s team to get cancelled, because Heshy’s team wasn’t cancelled, and Heshy isn’t even into baseball. I’m pretty sure he’s just in it for the shirt. But Daniel looks forward to this all year. So I volunteered to coach, so long as I didn’t have to commit to being there every single week, and it turns out that another parent had said the same thing, but he’d said it first, so I became the backup coach. Also, it turns out that backup coaching is not a very challenging position. I don’t know what I was so afraid of. For anyone in the same position let me help with the…
OFFICIAL YIDDLE LEAGUE BACKUP-COACHING MANUAL
Congratulations! You’ve just been guilted into coaching Yiddle League!
Coaching is easy. All it takes is a little “Can-Do” spirit, a willingness to take charge, and some Advil. But in the end, you get the satisfaction of knowing that you were in charge of a team that you don’t really care if they win or lose, because by the end of the game, you just want to go home. Also, you get a free shirt!
YOUR FREE SHIRT
When you become a coach, you’re presented with a shirt that says “COACH” in big letters. You can wear it to the games, if you want to be the only coach who actually wears it, or you can save it to wear when you’re getting onto a plane so the flight attendants know where to seat you. And they’ll definitely love all the comments from the other passengers. (“Ma’am, I didn’t get my free shirt. How come THAT guy gets a shirt?”)
HOW TO COACH
There’s not a lot of coaching involved. It’s not like you gather the kids into a room after the game and go over the tapes. (“Okay, Schwartzman; see what you did there? You were facing the wrong way! The game was going on behind you!”)
Some coaches do opt to pitch, although with this age group, even though we finally do keep score and there are outs, the kids can’t actually strike out. Basically, if you’re bad at baseball, you don’t get to sit down after three abortive attempts to hit the ball. You have to keep swinging and swinging, with your father yelling unhelpful advice from the sidelines (“Keep your eye on the ball!” How will THAT help?), until the pitcher gives up and tells you to let someone else have a turn. So pitching to this age group basically means throwing the ball very carefully and trying to bounce it off the kid’s bat. (This is also not something you want to do if the opposing team’s shirts are sponsored by the injury lawyers.)
Basically, as coach, it’s your responsibility to keep things moving:
“Alright, stop sitting on the ground.”
“Where’s your glove?”
“You’re safe on first. Pass the bat back for the next guy.”
It’s like you’re everyone’s parent.
The coach is also in charge of making up the batting order, which he does through the tactical strategy of having the kids clamor around him, and then assigning numbers based on who clamors the loudest. He also has to keep track of the order, and be able to tell the difference between a bunch of short little kids with half their faces covered by baseball caps and who are all wearing the same shirt.
HOW TO BACKUP A COACH WHO ALWAYS SHOWS UP
It turns out that even if the regular coach is there, he still needs backup, because in order to really keep the game moving, he has to be in seven places at once, and this is not easy, because his wife makes him drag his two smaller kids to every game to support their older brother by clinging to Dads’s knees and, when he tells them to stop, walking off toward the parking lot and leaving Dad stranded at the pitcher’s mound.
So really, there needs to be seven coaches. Along with The Coach of Making Sure Things Keep Moving and The Coach of Bouncing the Ball off the Kids’ Bats, there’s:
- The Coach of Standing Behind the Catcher and Actually Catching the Ball So It Can Get back to the Pitcher in a Timely Manner. I did this for one inning, and I caught most of the balls with my shins. They should have coaching pants.
- The Coach of Wondering Aloud, Every Five Minutes, Why There Are No Parents Around for the Other Team When We Barely Got a Team Together in the First Place.
- The Coach of Making Sure the Kids Are Spread Out Relatively Evenly Around the Field. If there’s no fielding coach, then there will be, at some point, like 4 kids taking first base, fighting over who gets to throw the ball back to the pitcher. So there also needs to be a
- First Base Coach, who takes care of this, and who remembers to take the helmet off each kid’s head and throw it back to the guy who stands behind the catcher, who then puts it on the head of the batter. This whole thing kind of reminds me of foosball, where the little men technically feel like they’re playing, and are unaware that there are bigger people behind them spinning the poles. Then there’s the
- Third Base Coach, who’s in charge of all the kids who have decided that no one is going to remember who bats next unless they form a tight line immediately behind the current batter, and that line keeps drifting across the third base line onto the field, so that anyone trying to run home gets lost in a sea of kids saying, “Hey! No cutting!”
So in general, a bunch of dads step in and help, and if you want to do this too and say it’s because you’re the backup coach, no one will object. But they won’t know the difference either. Unless you’re wearing the shirt.