Thursday, April 26, 2012

On Youth Baseball

Hello, my name is Chris and I coach youth baseball.

There.  It's out in the open.  Though if you have spent more than 10 minutes with me in the last 5 years you probably already knew this.

There are crazy dance moms, obsessed theatre dads, grandmoms who take their charges to Makin' Music 5 times a week to encourage the slobbering 3 year old to channel her inner Taylor Swift and grandpops who dress the youngest of kids in camo, hand them a shotgun and drag them into the woods every morning.

And then there are the baseball coaches. I freely admit that during the season (March to June, August to November, January to March) I have very few conversations that don't have youth baseball mixed in some how.  I looked last year at the percentage of my income I spent on baseball teams, travel, fees, training, equipment and lessons.  It scared me.

I had intended to step away from coaching this year.  I have been coaching my son for 6 years now, from T-ball to travel and over the winter I decided I had done enough.  There were better coaches available I reasoned. I wanted to sit with my daughter and watch. Like they always do, things happen, and here I am again, shouting repetitive instructions at 11 year olds, desperately hoping something sinks in.

It's an obsession. It dramatically affects our relationships with our significant others. Our other children have baseball day packs, filled with art supplies, snacks, water bottles, blankets, sunscreen and electronic diversions. Lunch hours are spent calling other coaches looking for games, staring at cell phone videos of pitchers and batters or fielding calls from parents concerned (inevitably) about their son's playing time.

I've watched other dads give it up. It's not pretty. They shout instructions though the fence at their sons. They tremble and shake in the bleachers when an umpire blows a call. They grumble and groan and hold parking lot meetings with their son's coach after the games. All of the symptoms of withdrawal are there. (One note: the guy pictured does none of these things. He's a model ex-coach.)

I'm not alone in my coaching obsession. Nearly all of the friends I see reguarly  anymore I have met through youth sports. We talk briefly about a new restaurant in town, our daughter's dance recital or taxes, but things move quickly to 'Did you see what so-and-so's kid did the other night? or 'Did you see so-and-so's email about whatever tragedy is confronting the team?'  We compare the latest catalogs from JustBats or Baseball Express and swap coupons to Dick's and Sports Authority.

We borrow each other's kids to fill out our lineups, throw countless batting practice sessions and show up at random rec league games to check how other coaches are using our travel team players. We spend hundreds on gear and apparel and look for every advantage for our kids and our teams. I recognize this is probably some form of insanity, but when everyone you know is doing the same thing, it all feels pretty normal.

We practiced last night until 8:45. On a school night.  We've got tournament games for the next 3 weekends.  Including Mother's Day. Today is an off-day and I am going to resist the temptation (I think)  to hit a rec game to see which kids are throwing tonight.

It's just what we do.  And every year I swear this will be the last year I coach, and every spring I am right back out there.

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