Major Plays Don’t Have to Happen in the Major Leagues
© 2011 Joe Bodolai, All rights reserved
I used to coach in a youth baseball league in Toronto for boys and girls from nine to 12 years old, the equivalent of Little League. My team included my son, the best player on the team, for all three years. For the first two years we won the league championship because I basically coached up all the kids instead of relying on the best boys as the other coaches did. Our seasons started with losses, some pretty bad, because I wanted everyone to learn every position on the field. I spent time teaching fundamentals to every player, such as how to properly throw, how to field a ground ball, judge a fly ball, position for the throw, etc. We got better game after game and were a totally balanced team and better as the season went on. I could play any kid at any position, even my girls at first and short, unlike the other teams who relied on their best boys every game.
I told the kids that if somebody says “you throw like a girl” that is going to be a compliment.
By the end of the season we had now twice beaten the horrible mean-spirited team that taunted us in their 19-1 win in our season opener. We were in the finals. I hated this coach. He allowed and even participated in abusive taunting so I really wanted revenge.
Now this team, ironically named the Expos, was 10 boys and four girls. My team was 8 girls and six boys. I had my son and his friend Zack who were two of the best players in the league, a couple square peg daydreamers, a tough as nails little Layla, a six-foot tall future model Claire often more concerned about accessorizing her uniform, a sweet shy hitless wonder Robbie, and a delightful little English rose named Blythe. Her parents had no clue but were at every game and I explained as the games went on.
Before the game, one of the most odiously arrogant but best hitter of the Expos made the mistake of saying something to Layla like “you suck. You throw like a girl.” Wrong girl to say that to. “Damn right I throw like a girl. Let’s see if you can hit like one.”(This was I thing I said at practices as a pump up confidence thing for the girls and a solidarity thing for the boys.) I pulled Layla over and said, “okay, how’d you like to pitch?” I was going to start Dani but moved her to first base. Layla was going to throw smoke. It was already coming out of her nostrils.
When I coach my kids I always teach what I call positional compassion with situation anticipation. In other words, those are my fancy coachspeak terms for “okay, on every pitch I want you to think what you need to do if the ball comes to you. Got it? Now I also want you to know what you have to do if the ball goes to somebody else. That’s what makes us a team, right?”
I also, by the way, forgot to tell you that at this level I do not follow conventional batting order strategy. I bat my two best power hitters one-two. My son leads off, Zack second, then whomever can just put the ball in play third and fourth. My thought is, these guys are going to get on base or more. Errors and misplays are so common at this level so I want my third hitter just to make contact. Things happen. It also means my best hitters are up more often.
Their pitcher wow seriously? Throws at my son’s head! No mistake. Whoa! Their coach shouts some macho crap and wants to intimidate. Siggy digs in. Slams a line drive into the gap for a double. Zack hits a zinger to right. Runners at first and third. Christine puts the ball in play, Siggy scores, Zack forced at second but they couldn’t make the play at the plate. We’re up 1-0.
Layla is fired up and I showed her some old school Al Hrabosky “Mad Hungarian” intimidation acting and she strikes out the first boy. The next kid gets a nibbly infield single on a backing out of the box swing. Now the asshole is up. Todd, I think. I walk out to talk to Layla, who’s glaring at the kid. I make all these gestures looking as if I’m calming her down, tell her to shake her head like she’s going to calm down but what I say is, “drill him right in the ribs on the first pitch.” I didn’t care if we now had one out and two runners, it was message payback time. Layla gets it. Opens her arms as he takes the plate as if “you wanna go motherfucker?” Wham. Right in the ribs. Layla turns toward centre field smiling as he wimps to first base. Next kid strikes out bailing. Then a popup.
Due to time restrictions, we jump ahead to Todd’s next at bat. I told Layla she won’t and shouldn’t have to hit him this time. Now it’s a head game. Take a longer time before you look in at him. Before you get set, smile and then just point to first base, as if “you want to get on base? I’ll be glad to help.” Big tough kid was now out of the game. I told her come inside at the knees first pitch, he’ll bail, then work outside. Three pitch strikeout.
Okay, the final act. We’re up 4-3 thanks to my son’s two home runs and some great heads up baserunning and our hitting behind the runner overmatching their defense. Little ball. Girl ball. We are playing errorless baseball!
So the ninth, I have Christine in now and Layla at third. Zack and my son in the outfield. Todd is a non-factor but they have runners at first and third with one out. Good hitter up so I’m up for a conference at the mound. My boys in the outfield know about a sac fly so they’re ready. I talk to my girls. The ground ball goes where? Home, right? Or look the runner back and take the force at second or the out at first and the sac fly is off. So Christine is going to keep the ball down. She does not have great velocity but great control so I’m comfortable. I remind my all-girl infield, “what do you do if the ball comes to you? What do you do if the ball goes to someone else?”
My assumption is that the there will be a pull hit low grounder or liner to the right side of the infield or sneak through. Chrissie is not throwing above the, um, crotch. No fly balls. They can tie this game up with the guy on third but the guy on first cannot get to second. One out. Okay girls? Lead runner.
Anyway, here is what happened: the batter hits a one-shot bullet to Blythe’s right but it looks like a base hit so the runner goes and she’s in no position with her body falling forward to make the throw so here’s what fucking happened. Blythe short hops, momentum moving and falling toward third but instead of going home Omar Vizquel flips the ball backhand to Claire, who is amazingly already on the bag (!), glove out and poised with foot on corner of the base and ready to go to first. She turns the ball like Robbie Alomar and fires a bullet to Dani, whose glove is out and the final out hits it with that beautiful smack of leather. It was a game-ending 6-4-3 incredible — game ending — double play that stunned everybody for a silent moment. I run out to my girls, my whole team and parents and friends are all jumping up on the mound. “Blue Jays!” chants.
”What do you do if the ball comes to you? And what do you do if the ball goes to someone else?” The girls. Did that.
“That’s what makes us a team, right?”
I was there for Joe Carter’s home run. Devon White’s catch. Yet my heart just saw the greatest play I’ve ever witnessed.
By the way, the other team’s coach refused me the end of game handshake.
This is from a dream when I was in the hospital. It’s real. Names and details may be fucked up but the story is true, but IVs and taking vitals and blood kinda, you know..
I have the game ball signed by all the kids. It’s in storage but it’s probably the most valuable thing I own. Because “that’s what makes us a team, right?”
 A colourful relief pitcher for the Royals in the 70’s with some great pre-pitch theatrics. None of these kids have ever seen it. Look him up, especially video.