At the Seasons End

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Congratulations are in order. Pop the Cokes, shake the Gatorade, toss sunflower seeds in the air.

Our Cardinals’s secured first place in the National league last night, and the overall top seed in the playoffs with an 8-4 with a win over the Twins. As a result we nabbed a league best 8-3 record. It’s a moment like this that you hope for as a kid. It’s a moment like this you yearn for as a coach. The opportunity to be the best overall team and win a championship as a team. That’s what we are. A team. And every last player on the Cardinals is an integral part in the success of our 2015 season. As parents and coaches we are proud of what they have accomplished. But it’s the first of three steps, and now we move on to the playoffs.

Our 8-3 record has not been easy. All but one of our games has been close and our Cardinals have persevered due to great defense, smart in-game decisions and timely hitting. It’s this tough road that has shaped this team into a playoff ready—nerves of steel—never quit—bring it on attitude that is perfect for a long run in the playoffs. Each team that makes the playoffs has the opportunity to win it all so we’ll have to stay focused in order to come out again on top. We have to stay true to what has gotten us here, and I know that if we are at our best with our full team. There is nobody that we cannot beat. Our first playoff game is this Saturday versus the Mets. It’s fitting that we are playing the Mets. They beat us twice this year. The certainly have our number.

Another tough game? I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Jenny Craig? Hack.

10277416_10153921510593275_1790853468354266167_nWeight Watchers? Ponzi scheme.

Crossfit? Waste of time.

21-Day Fix? Forget it.

Want to lose weight? Coach little league baseball. More specifically coach WAA Cardinals little league baseball. After Saturday’s game I think I lost 10 pounds. The stress of these close games is having me consider placing a puke bucket outside the dugout for me to use between innings. The kids, of which my son Aaron is included, sure know how to make a ball game interesting. With something to prove and first place on the line, the Cardinals fought back and held on to win another close game 7-6 verses the D’Backs. After almost giving the game away again to the D’Backs, the bats finally came alive in the fifth and it was perfect timing. The kids are learning from their mistakes, smiling, having fun and as coaches we could not be more proud. With only two games left, and a record of 7-3, we control our own destiny. If we win out, first place is ours, and I’m confident of our chances.

Sharks

Baseball is a game of failure.

70% of the time the games best players fail when trying to hit the ball. Players record errors on the field. Make bad pitches and throws. What’s important to understand is that every next at-bat, pitch or time on defense is an opportunity to make a play that’s positive. The trick is for players to not look back, to have a short memory when it comes to failure. For they’ll need the focus in the present to make the play when they get the next opportunity. If they’re always in the past, then failure lurks with a side helping of doubt. And since players can’t change the past, the only thing they can control is how they deal with the future.

This premise is kinda like a shark. Sharks constantly swim, and if they stop, they die. These predators lack the ability to extract oxygen from the water unless it’s forced through their side gills from their constant state of motion. The point is they never look back. Sharks are always looking forward. A timely piece of advice I gave a 10-year old on the mound after he gave up a game tying single to a batter. “Be like a shark, don’t look back. Focus on the next batter, and just throw strikes. If they hit them, they hit them. Count on your teammates to play good defense behind you.” He composed himself, got the last out and the game continued. A game we eventually won.

(I have since nicknamed him “Shark” for the rest of the season)

One of my dear friends, who I can’t thank enough, allowed me to realize the advice of the shark is not for baseball alone. It’s a good parable to carry around to reference when dealing with some everyday and not-so-everyday situations. Sometimes after you fail, it’s best to recognize it, learn from it, keep moving forward and not look back. If not, you risk suffocation under the weight of your own lack of mental strength.

A Game of Humility

photo 1Coaching baseball is my highlight of the week. With AJ. Being outside. In the warmth. In the rain. In the cold. It doesn’t matter. Away from the responsibilities of life is a welcome distraction from the weight of everything else. Instructing kids on the nuances of a game riddled with life lessons and humbling moments is a privilege that I’ve been able to maintain for the last 9 years.

Tonight is a night I will never forget. We were playing the Angels. Their head coach, Paul, is a good friend. We both attend the same church. We’ve coached together when our eldest sons (Joey and Dalton) were playing years earlier in the 9-10 league. He is honorable, respectful, and a great head coach. I’ve learned much from him.

We both longed for this game. My Rangers. His Angels. The anticipation for this game was elevated even more when Mother Nature rained out the original date postponing the game to Sunday evening.

As the away team we were up to bat first.

Their pitcher was a strike throwing fastball machine. 3 up. 3 down. They came to bat and scored 5 runs.

The 2nd inning was more of the same. 3 up for the Rangers. 3 down. Another five spot for the Angels.

At the top of the 3rd we were looking at a 0-10 deficit and no indication that anything was going to change. John the other coach and I actually discussed measures of treating the rest of the game as a learning session—if it got more out of hand, and playing kids in positions they wouldn’t normally to try to get them some experience. Not the way I was hoping the most anticipated game of the schedule was going to go down. I was hoping for a battle. Maybe a 6-6 tie going into the final inning. Tension. Nervousness. A last at bat base hit of walk-off single to close out the game. Kids piling on top of kids. No mater who won. In my mind this was to be the game of the year, and instead it was a blowout.

Then something happened. Paul replaced his ace with a pitcher who was not as strong. Our kids got on base, scored runs and we got right back in the game. In fact, at the bottom of the 4th inning the score was 10-10. A far cry from the how the game started. Now, we ended up losing 10-12, but that’s not really the story here. The story is about how the coach of the Angels didn’t pour it on. How he knew his second pitcher was not as strong but he wanted to get him in the game. Understanding the bigger picture that 9-10 year old kids having feelings that are fragile. That every ballplayer should have fun first, then win second. No matter the cost. Even in the moment I knew he was feeling this way about our game. He didn’t have to tell me. I could see it in his face. My kids left the field tonight feeling good that they battled back, not deflated because they got crushed. They didn’t give up, and had a shot to win. After the game Paul and I talked and he confirmed to me what I already suspected, and I was very grateful. Hopefully the next time our two teams meet in June the outcome will be more like he and I hoped for this game. A nail-biter to the end. Unfortunately I will be in Phoenix for work that day, and can’t be there. Unless Mother Nature intervenes again.

Humility is something the game of baseball teaches a person in spades. And they are lessons for players and coaches alike.

I will miss it when AJ grows up and it’s gone.

Tuesday’s Ghost Story

MitchAlbomI did something today I have never done before.

I read a book cover to cover
in one night.

Um…what?

The magnitude of this event was smacked clear when Aaron, my youngest looked at me and with blatant honesty and said, “Dad, you’re actually reading a book? Really?” Normally I’d chalk his response up to his highly developed sense of sarcasm, but he was totally serious. He’s right, I don’t read. At least not recreational reading. Most of my in-progress book are marketing, creative, or advertising focused. I sneak a few pages here or there mostly on my ipad Kindle app. I have 3 or 4 books that I could say I am “in the middle of reading”, but have not finished any of them. I’m not opposed to reading. In fact, I quite like it. I just don’t have the time. So finish a book in one day? Um, no.

(To steal a line from @gerlock: I swear I don’t even know who I am anymore.)

The book I read tonight was Mitch Album’s For One More Day. It’s one part ghost story, one part baseball, and lot of parts reconciliation that details the life of Chick Benetto. On the day of his failed attempted suicide he spends one day with his mother that had been dead for almost a decade. It’s a fast read, gets you thinking about mortality and the choices one makes during a lifetime. The book had me in tears during some sections more often than I care to admit. Sure I would love one more day with my Father, or Grandma Mayernik. I am not sure what I’d say, or what they’d think about the choices I’ve made during my life, but would love one final day. My friend Courtney gave me the book just this afternoon. She knows that I’m a Detroit guy and that Mitch Albom is a Detroit Columnist, she knew I’d like the book and she was right. Courtney had no idea that I was just thinking about this book a few days earlier. Let’s just say the book was already top of mind.

…and for once I could not put a book down. Yep I read a book cover to cover.

(I don’t even know who I am anymore, and maybe that’s the point)

Happy 12.12.12.

The Hunt for October.

If you read this blog or know me you know this: I love baseball.

You’ll also know that my hometown team is the Detroit Tigers.

The Tigers were swept in the World Series tonight by the San Francisco Giants, 4-3 in 10 innings. A heartbreaking loss to a terrific season. Rather unlikely ending for a team that was so dominant in baseball this year in the playoffs. Aaron, my youngest son, has been wearing his Tiger hat almost every day for the past month. Fist pumping the strikeouts. Asking for the final score in the morning before the bus came. He, like me is a fan. Game 4 was the first game that I made a point to just sit on the couch and watch. It’s been a long time since I sat and watched tv. In fact, Game 4 was my first real time spent in front of the tv in months (I listened to the first three games on the radio). And with my two boys looking on we watched and hoped for a miracle that would never come.

As Miguel Cabera struck out, Aaron, with the beginnings of tears, took his hat off and slammed it to the couch.

I put the hat back on his head and said, “Put your hat back on. Wear it proudly. The Tigers did good this year, but it wasn’t meant to be. They’ll get ’em next year.”

AJ smiled, hopped off the couch, hat on head, and I followed him to his room. He placed his Tiger hat on top of his piggy bank perch located on his dresser and climbed into bed. We said prayers, and I turned out the light.

See you in April Tigers. We will be waiting and watching for the hunt next year.

Where the Dandelions Grow

“I want to be pitcher.

Put me in.

I can do it.

Okay then let me play first base.

I want the ball.”

This was me in 1984 as a 10-year old. I would ask my Father who was the head coach of my little team these words all game, every game. He never gave in.

I am pictured in the team photo to the left. I’m standing in the back row on the right. One of my most important people in this world is also in this photo. My buddy Chuck is standing in the back row on the left. (Chuck is quick to point out that this is probably the last time we were the same height). Unfortunately my parents were in Europe the day this photo was taken, so my Father is not in it.

As for the baseball season, I never got special treatment as the coaches son. Rather, I was placed where my strengths were best amplified. Occasionally in the infield, but mostly in the outfield. I still remember kicking up dirt, picking dandelions and paying attention to the roar of parents on another field after a run scoring single or double.

Then it happened:

Left field.

Pop fly.

I got underneath it.

Caught the ball.

And the parents on our field cheered for me. Including my Father.

I have loved the outfield ever since, and had no desire to be pitcher after that year. My Father had it right. As a head coach he knew my strength. He knew way before I realized what I was good at, and how I could best help the team.

“I want to be pitcher.

Put me in.

I can do it.

Okay then let me play first base.

I want the ball.”

Now as a baseball coach for 9 years myself I hear the words all the time.
And each time I think back to my Father and I smile.