There was a moment during my first few horrific days of Army basic training when it occurred to me that I, shithead extraordinaire, was the one who volunteered to be there, and that the misery I was experiencing as a result of being there was, therefore, in the words of the great Robert Plant, “na-na-na-na-na-na-na-noooooobody’s fault but mine.”
I experienced a similar epiphany yesterday when I found myself standing in the middle of a baseball diamond coaching 11 youngsters during their first tee-ball practice.
When I got backed into coaching my son’s tee-ball team last year, I only coached the actual games, because I didn’t get bamboozled into the gig until after the team had already completed its pre-season practices.
This just in: supervising a three-inning tee-ball game is an entirely different thing than implementing an hour’s-worth of practice drills for a dozen or so 5- and 6-year-olds.
There are several reasons coaching a tee-ball team falls well outside of my comfort zone. Let us review a few of them, shall we?
Firstly, I sucked at baseball when I was a kid, and basically loathed being involved in team sports, so placing myself in that type of environment isn’t something that brings back what I would describe as fond memories.
Here’s an actual recording of me playing in a little league game when I was 12:
OK, so that isn’t really me … but the only reason I know that for sure is because I couldn’t even muster up the mock bravado that Sandler’s character employs in that sketch. No, I simply wanted to live through the nightmare and get back home without embarrassing myself too badly.
Secondly, I don’t necessarily crave the opportunity to look after a large group of other people’s kids. I mean, in case you hadn’t noticed, this site is basically one giant dissertation on how I can barely handle my own two children. Am I really the guy you want to have supervising 10 other kids while playing a game that involves swinging a deadly weapon?
But, alright, the kids were nice enough … and, truth be told, it wasn’t really the kids that I was worried about; they’re still young and dumb enough to assume that I know what I’m doing, and to listen to my instructions, no matter how utterly nonsensical those instructions may be. No, the most uncomfortable part of the entire experience is the third item on Jon’s List of Reasons Why Coaching Tee-Ball Falls Well Outside His Comfort Zone:
The Other Parents.
Throughout the hour-long practice, I could feel the eyes of the children’s parents upon me—and, worse still, I could actually hear their thoughts … and they were thinking, “My god, this guy sucks. I bet he really sucked at baseball when he was a kid, too. How on god’s green earth did my child end up with this clown?”
Because for all of my preparation (as promised, I studied my copy of the “Baffled Parent’s Guide to Coaching Tee-Ball”), it didn’t take long before I felt like the Wizard of Oz, and I was sure that, at any moment, the parents were going to pull back the curtain, see me for the fraud that I was, take their children by the hand and quickly usher them away from that crazy man who thought he could coach a tee-ball team.
There’s just too much to worry about. Are the parents OK with me touching their kid while I help him (or her; one girl on the team, who happens to be Zan’s best friend) with his/her batting stance? Are they annoyed that I just called their kid by the wrong name for the third time? Is that one couple taking issue with the fact that I have my left arm wrapped around their child as I try to help him get his foot back into his loafer-style sneaker, which flew off as he was approaching home plate and left him hopping in order to keep his sock-covered foot out of the mud? Should I even give a shit about what those parents think, seeing as how they brought their kid to play tee-ball on a muddy baseball diamond while wearing loafer-style sneakers?
And I was almost to the finish line. I had decided to end the practice by giving each kid a chance to hit off the tee and run the bases, and I was down to the final kid … a tiny little guy whose father is assisting me with coaching the team. I was standing over him at the tee, just about to help him get into a batting stance, when one of the kids in the field decided to throw me a ball that hadn’t yet been retrieved … and I had barehanded a good number of balls throughout the practice, some with an aplomb and quickness that surprised even me. But the one time it really counted, of course, I choked. I wasn’t expecting the throw, and I missed, and the ball hit peewee dead center in the chest … and the look in his eyes said, “What the fuck, dude? You’re the coach and you just missed a ball that ended up hitting me? I don’t know what else to say except that you suck, Coach Jon. You suck big time.”
And a chorus of thoughts from the parents on the sidelines rose up, too, as they all telepathed in unison, “That guy’s the coach and he just missed a ball that ended up hitting a kid? What if that was my kid? I mean, I don’t know what else to say except that Coach Jon sucks. He sucks big time.”
Truthfully, it wasn’t a very hard impact at all, and he didn’t start crying or anything like that, and it really was no big deal, didn’t even slow things down … but the mere fact that I’d let it happen made me feel like King Douche.
When it was finally over, and I was handing out the game schedule, I couldn’t get any kind of a read on how the parents felt about how things went … but no one was showering me with praise, and since I’m neurotic and insecure, I took that as a bad sign.
And, of course, all of this begs the question: Why in the hell would I ever subject myself to such a thing if I’m so clearly uncomfortable with it?
I finished packing up the equipment bag and lugged it over to the bench where Zan was sitting by himself.
“So, did you have fun, buddy?”
“Think I did alright coaching?”
“Yeah,” he said matter-of-factly. “Best coach ever.”