One of the more interesting aspects of coaching youth baseball is the variety of players you get. I’ve had kids who went on the college level ball, kids that starred in high school, one kid who made the minor leagues, and of course an entire array of kids who, talentwise, should never have been anywhere near a baseball diamond.
Aaron was not the worst player I ever had, but he was in the top about five. He couldn’t hit the floor if he fell out of bed, couldn’t catch a cold, would have lost a race to a one-legged man, but he liked the game. It was my job to find a place to play him. I always had a rule that the weakest hitter batted eighth because I wanted a rabbit who could hit just a little in the nine-hole so I could have a man on in front of the lead off man. Aaron hit eighth. Or more properly, Aaron was in the eight hole, the hitting was more wish than reality. There’s also an unwritten rule that the worst fielder goes to right field. Wanna guess where Aaron played? He couldn’t go back on the ball at all, but he could come in a little if he got lucky. I had my son at second and one of his jobs was to act as cut off man for the right fielder. Another job was to make sure that Aaron stayed back in right and didn’t keep wandering in so that a hard single would go over his head for a triple. It actually worked pretty well, except that deep or shallow Aaron couldn’t catch the ball.
Two-thirds of the way through the season we were involved in a fairly close game (one we eventually lost) with Aaron in right. In the fifth inning (I still have the score book and checked) we had two outs, two on, and Aaron still in right. The batter hit a soft liner that carried farther than we expected. It was obviously going to right and Aaron was, for once, actually back where he was supposed to be. I could hear my son shouting, “Aaron, Aaron,” as he moved to assume his usual cut off position. Aaron looked up, stared for a second, then began dashing (OK, dashing is too strong a word, but he was moving forward) in for the ball. He stuck up his glove (I think his eyes were closed) and the ball fell magically into his glove for the third out. I knew at that moment there was a God and that He loved baseball. There was no other explanation.
The team went slightly nuts. The parents went slightly nuts. The coaching staff went slightly nuts. His Dad went absolutely crazy. Even the umpires, who were on the diamond enough to get a pretty good idea of how good or awful were the players on each team, were smiling. The chief ump, who we called “Smiley” for the same reason you call a huge man “Tiny”, was manning home plate that night. He really was smiling when he shook my hand as I moved out to the third base coaching box. “Taught him everything he knows,” I told him.
Yeah, we lost. But for a change no one cared. Aaron’s catch was one of the highlights of the year for the team. It’s funny how that works. For a change the players were more concerned with a teammate doing well than with winning or losing. I couldn’t tell you a single stat from the best player on the team that year (except that I remember he came in second in batting average) without looking it up, but I remember the catch. I never had Aaron in youth baseball again, but I ran into him later after he became an adult, working at a Walmart or some such place. We shook hands and talked a moment. He asked if I remembered the catch. I told him I did (I quoted the name of the other team as proof). He was happy I remembered. I believe I was even more happy that he remembered his shining moment in youth baseball. Ain’t that great?
Tags: youth baseball