Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Coach

Tonight I went to watch my son’s first baseball game of the season. Well, second game, but the first I could attend.

Just one daughter tagged along with me and we sat in our red canvas chairs hoping the wind wouldn’t pick up, and watched the cute little twins beside us. (I’ll admit I’m one of those moms who doesn’t always keep her eye on the game.) Within minutes, my son was up to bat and I turned to watch him swing. He had a couple of balls, and a couple of strikes, and then he made contact and made it to first base. While he had swung at home I noticed his coach standing behind the plate. The man was tallish with broad shoulders and stood with his arms crossed over his chest. Nice looking and in good shape. But it was the way he spoke that grabbed my attention even more (because, admittedly, his physique got my attention too). With a low voice he threw out encouraging words like “nice try, now swing harder” or “good hold, but step in.” There was no muttering or hollering or condemning. No rolled eyes. Just praise and coaching; exactly as a coach should do. I was glad about that. My son has had coaches before who didn’t understand their role and thought that yelling or criticism was the means to a winning end.

When my son – and the other boys – ran the bases the coach called out in a low voice “hustle, hustle” and it reminded me how twelve years before my older son’s coach had used the same term. Maybe it’s common in baseball, but takes me by surprise none the less. I like it. It’s a nice way to say hurry.

The next player was now up to bat and swung unsuccessfully a couple of times, so the coach moved in to demonstrate with the bat, and his shirt hugged his muscled arms tighter and his chest filled out. I realized my eyes were on the wrong batter – and could have stayed there all day – and then the coach moved back to his place behind home plate. He stood there intent on the game, with a baseball cap like all the boys’, emblazoned with a large bumblebee, completely comfortable in his masculinity.

A few times, when a little guy would ask a question, the coach squatted right down to his height and looked into his eyes. And he called them all “fellas,” whether they were talking in a huddle, or he was calling them in from the field: like they’re his peers. No doubt that will go a long way in earning their respect and best efforts in the game.

At some point his wife arrived and when he noticed her he immediately walked toward her and learned in toward the chain-link backstop, with his arm raised above his head. He flashed her a handsome smile and asked how long she’d been there. It was apparent he was happy to see her. It was just as apparent that she’s a very lucky lady.

He was oblivious to me watching him watch the game. His sunglasses hid his eyes – that I’m betting were green – but I could tell he was squinting despite the glasses. I didn’t have to imagine the smile though, as he flashed it often when a player hit the ball or ran, or when one the little guys got confused.

When the game ended I packed up our red chairs. The coach swung them over his shoulder and we headed home.

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