Men are psychotic. No, really psychotic.
I'm not just blowing smoke here people. This is fact. My conclusions are drawn from two years of careful observation on the little league field. Trust me, I know what I'm talking about. I took "Sociological Research Methodology" (a class I would not have taken in a billion years but for it being absolutely 100% required for me to receive my degree). Thanks to that glorious piece of academic bliss, I know the precise methodology required to perform a definitive participant observation study -- you must 1) participate and 2) observe (in some instances it is also acceptable to 1) observe and 2) participate -- but that is the exception, not the rule). Thus, in the name of science, I have coached my 7 year old's little league team for the last two years, all the while taking careful mental note of the primeval behavior of men at the helm of teams of uncoordinated, distracted, overly-sensitive, spastic little boys. My conclusion -- men are psychotic.
Earlier this week I received an email from one of my fellow little league coaches entitled "Scouting Report." It was not quite the player by player dossier of strengths and weaknesses that we had hoped for, but it did contain some useful G2. Apparently the friend of my fellow coach had recently played the team we were to face later in the week. The word on the street was that this team -- let's call them the Blues to protect the guilty -- had superb skills and a hyper-competitive coach. This got us all riled up. We just couldn't countenance a hyper-competitive coach. That was just crazy. Who was he to care about winning over the love of the game. Who was he to push his little players to succeed at the cost of a nurturing environment for the kids. Who was he to require anabolic steroids of his mini Giambi's (ok, that may just have been a rumor -- alright, I started that rumor -- but I'm almost certain it is true). We had no choice but to do as our scout requested -- we had to "bury them," the little bastards.
I'll give it to our scout, he was dead on. The Blues were the top of the coach pitch heap. As first and second graders go, these kids were some serious athletes. Most of the time the players actually hit the ball when it was pitched to them. And often times when fielding the ball, the kids had the presence of mind to throw the ball to another player. On several occasions, the Blues also caught the ball. And in a few rare instances, the players on the Blues managed to pull together the unthinkable; not only fielding the ball but then throwing it to another player who then caught the ball, getting our player out. This impressive show of not completely sucking really had my team on the run. But we powered right back at them by managing to not completely suck ourselves. Our players sort of fielded. Our players sort of hit. Our players sort of ran. All in all it sort of looked like baseball.
Sadly, not only was our scout right about the mad skills demonstrated by the Blues, he was also right about the general madness demonstrated by the Blues' coach. Every so often you run into one of these guys who takes the game so seriously that you wonder to yourself "which of those poor little kids is crazy guy's son?" This particular Crazy Guy had an intensity about the game that one rarely sees outside of Fenway Park. He was all "shake it off" this and "get one for me" that. The kids on the Blues couldn't help but cower in their cleats in right-center field. And this being the tenth game of the season, the Blues knew full well what was coming. Crazy Guy was in fact a particularly pernicious form of Crazy Guy that I like to call the Rule Nazi. And not just any Rule Nazi, he was the very best Rule Nazi he could possible be. He set the bar for Rule Nazis.
How do you spot a Rule Nazi? He's the guy saying things like "the base path is arbitrary, but may not veer more than three feet from a player holding the ball" or "there's no controversy here -- the runner advances automatically when the ball exceeds 20 feet from the field of play." I, on the other hand, am clearly no Rule Nazi. I am the guy saying to the other team's Rule Nazi "so does that mean my player is safe?" One might think that this would endear me to said Rule Nazi because I am so clearly manipulable. Yet it does no such thing. Rather, it creates vast contempt from the Rule Nazi because I am so laxadasical about the sport that the players on my team can not possibly be learning the game appropriately. My favorite comment from this particular Rule Nazi came mid way through the game when his fellow coach had the audacity to call our play safe in a close play. Apparently the RN (no, he didn't suddenly become a Registered Nurse, but I got tired of writing "Rule Nazi" over and over again) took issue with the call but after getting little satisfaction from his fellow coach despite several attempts to argue one of the more arcane points in the little league rule book, the exasperated RN spat at the other coach "I'll have to explain it to you later." Roughly translated, what the RN actually said was, "you pathetic moron -- I will explain America's pastime to you after this inning, assuming you haven't so severely handicapped our team as to make it useless to continue on with the game."
While this week's RN was a piece of work for sure, he was at least a pure technocrat. By and large he was not interested in manipulating his extreme knowledge of the rule book in his team's favor. On the other hand, last year my team faced the worst of all possible worlds -- a self-serving RN. This particular RN had very strong opinions about the rules when application of those rules gave his team an advantage. When applying the same rules disadvantaged his team, however, this RN made up exceptions to the rules. After several instances of this unabashed . . . shall we say . . . cheating, my co-coach could take it no longer. He started yelling at the other coach about his inconsistency. The other coach would have none of it and yelled back at my co-coach. Slowly the two coaches inched towards each-other, all the while yelling, setting a fantastic example for our team full of first graders. The argument escalated as the two coaches got closer and closer to each other. But it was not until I saw several of the other dads on my sideline get up out of their lawn chairs to offer their "support" to my co-coach that I had visions of a made for TV movie. I sprang into action and did what I do best -- I appeased the other coach thus infuriating all the parents on our side of the isle. I did, however, manage to help us all narrowly escape the evening news.
There's nothing like facing a RN to get the parents on the sidelines riled up. Our most recent encounter with the Blues was no exception. With each little nitpickey call the RN insisted upon making, the crowds rallied around the team. Going into the fifth inning, the score was all tied up and the mom's on the sideline were nearly apoplectic (my nine year old dubbed them the Desperate Coaches' Wives). in a moment of supreme confidence, my fellow coach goaded the RN into playing a final tie-breaking inning. The gamble was a big one. A bit like tossing a coin. Our boys seemed as likely to completely stumble as they were to prevail. But the call was not mine to make and, thus, we marched into the 6th inning 6 to 6 or 40 to 40 or some tie score that needed to be broken.
Our team was up first. With some power, some luck, and some crappy fielding, we scored a few runs and were now officially ahead. The moms were on their feet. The dads were on their toes. We coaches were on full alert, barking commands to each and every fielder. "Joe, two steps to the left." "Steven, back up . . . back up . . . back up." "Noah, wake up." The first Blue stepped to the plate and whacked a good one in the general direction of our second baseman who managed to reach out and swipe it from the sky. One down. The moms screamed and screeched. Next batter up. A little blooper to our pitcher. Mind you the typical role of the pitcher is to catch balls returned from the catcher when the ball isn't hit. The pitcher then hands the balls to the coach who's pitching for the other team. Not exactly a high pressure role and designed entirely to lull the pitcher into complacency. But there was no complacency that day with all ten of the coaches on the sideline pepping up the slouching field crew. (Ok, ten is a bit of an exaggeration but there are literally five dads coaching a team of a dozen kids. Overkill? This is Palo Alto. There's no such thing as overkill. This aside is really just intended to add suspense to this nail biter of a tale. I digress.) To recap, when we left off there was one out and a blooper to the pitcher. What happened next? What happened next? In an act of uncharacteristic precision, our pitcher sprinted to the ball, fielded it cleanly (a one in ten sort of occurrence) and shot a rocket straight to our first baseman. Two down.
I should point out to you right now another indication that men are pathetic. Before each game our head coach circulates a lineup sheet. It lists not only the batting order but the fielding positions of the players for the typical 5 inning game. Our head coach this year is perhaps the nicest human being you have ever met and therefore, against his better judgment, he actually, honestly, for real rotates the kids to all positions. The mere fact that a kid may end up playing first base without the ability to actually catch the ball is of no consequence -- it is a learning experience. However, even our fantastic head coach is human. Learning is for the first five innings of the game. Should the game get to a sixth tied inning with a RN at the helm on the other side, rotation is out the door. Fielders are placed according to talent, not equity. In other words, we stacked the deck. Damn tootin' we stacked the deck. So did the RN. So would you have. It was tied going into the sixth. What choice did we have? But I digress again. To re-recap, sixth inning, we're ahead by a couple, two down.
About now the contrast between the two sets of parents was marked. On our sides the moms were absolutely loosing their minds (the dads were on their feet as well but they still seemed to have general control of their faculties). They were screaming relevant things -- "great D boys, great D." They were screaming less relevant things -- "Win one for the Gipper!" They were just screaming. On the other side of the field, the Blues' family members were rapidly making their way through the 5 Stages of Grief. Anger and Denial were long gone. By the third batter, most of the Blues' parents were settled into the complacent world of Acceptance. But not the RN. He was a "can do" sort of a guy and was screaming at his batter with greater vigor than ever. "Shake it off." "Let's see a good one." Fine instructions for his troupes. We would have given the same instructions to our boys. But we were too busy screaming things like "ready positions guys," "let's see some more of that" and "two down boys . . . don't screw this up."
Positive coaching is a real art. Have you ever spent a couple hours dominated by mistakes, screw ups, confusion, distraction and just plain old errors and only been allowed to say positive things? It's a bitch. I imagine that it must be easier if you are a better person than I (our head coach is certainly a better guy than I am and he seems completely at ease never pointing out the negative). But if you are basically a cynic, it is a challenge. To my mind the logical comment when a kid drops a ball is "don't drop the ball next time" not "you sure got under that one." When a kid strikes out the logical comment is "keep your eye on the ball" not "nice looking swings." When a kid gets out because he walks to first, I think one should probably say "run next time," not "good hit." This is, of course, absolute evidence that I have no business coaching a little league team, so I just try hard (often times unssuccesfully) to keep my mouth shutt. Of course it is even more difficult to be Mr. Positive Coach Guy when facing a RN who you really really really want to crush like a bug.
In any event, where was I? Oh yeah, two down, one to go, general frenzy. The next guy got out and we won. The kids and parents went crazy. The Blues sang. The RN wept. All was well in the world.
Gosh, that was not that satisfying after paragraphs of buildup, huh? Ok, fine. The third kid from the Blues, flop sweat and all, steps to the plate. By now the Desperate Coaches' Wives were absolutely ruthless; no respite from the noise to give the batter a fighting chance at maintaining his composure. Instead, it was like an indoor football stadium during a crucial drive -- the cheers from the moms were deafening. The kid took a few practice swings and the jubilation on our side moderated a bit. This kid had a huge swing that would really make the ball fly if he connected (truth be told, I have no idea if the kid could even swing the bat but what joy is there in winning the game by fielding some lame blooper, so I'll assume he was the Blues' best batter). The first pitch was sent fouled. He let the second go. Then came the dream pitch. It was right down the pipe, a little low as the little leaguers like it (all the easier to pop up). The batter rapped a solid hit in the general direction of second base. Our fielder sprinted for the ball, getting there in the nick of time. He knocked it down, bobbled it a second, regained his composure and tossed it to first base. The Blues' batter not only had a mighty swing but was swift afoot (ok, again, I'm just making this up -- he could have been crawling for all I can remember) and nearly beat the ball to first base. But he didn't. The ball beat him, our first baseman hung onto it, and the runner was out. End of game. Midtown Roundtable Pizza A's were victorious.
The kids literally lost their minds. They ran to the sideline screaming and throwing their gloves and hats. The Desperate Coaches' Wives danced and squealed in celebration. The coaching staff bellowed with pride. General pandaemonium ensued. Regaining our composure, the kids and coaches gathered for the single loudest "2, 4, 6, 8" in the history of Palo Alto little league. The kids shook the Blues hands with, shall we say, vigor. And as I shook hands with the other coaches I gave the RN a little extra squeeze as if to say, "ha ha, our kids are better than your kids!" It was petty but it felt good. In triumph we all retired to the sideline for a snack of Fruit Gushers and Capri Sun. Ah the sweet sweet taste of victory and Fruit Gushers. Sure, men are psychotic. But what would you have us do? Lose? I don't think so.