As I stand in the first base coach’s box, I study our team’s opposing pitcher carefully. One of our players has just lashed a screamer to right field. He has a good lead off of first, ready for my signal to head for second.
“Go!” I shout, as the pitched ball dribbles away from the catcher. I look up to see that my base runner — the little blighter — took off long before any shouted instruction from me.
“Very good, then,” I mutter to myself. “Carry on.”
And that’s the point. I can pretend that these base runners actually need my signal in order to know exactly when to take off, but who would I be kidding? At this juncture, these 15-year-olds know far more about the game than I do. In fact, they knew more than me about the game when they were 9 year olds. As an assistant coach within SWAC, I might have a tidbit or two of baseball knowledge to toss their way, but that’s doubtful. If they listen to me at all, it’s only because I’m taller and my voice is lower than theirs. But in this league, this year, I’ve noticed that’s no longer true.
So, to their credit, they put up with me. I’ve been coaching or assistant coaching SWAC baseball for years, since the time many of these boys were trying to whack a ball off a tee and take off for third base. For the past three summers, I and another father, Dan Steen, had co-coached our sons and a group of 10 other boys. At the end of last season, both my son and Dan’s announced their retirement from SWAC baseball. That was it, no more. One wanted to try his hand at lacrosse; the other at year-round soccer.
“Well, OK then. We’ll miss you both,” I had said. It took a few ticks before it fully registered with me — I had just been handed my own forced retirement. “Oh, right then,” I said. “I guess that’s that.”
So when the coach of my other son — who did, indeed, have another season in him — asked last month for parent volunteers to help coach, I jumped at the chance. One more season in the sun. One more season on the ballfields with my son.
I was a horrible player as a child. When not parked deep on the bench, I was the player parked deep in right field. My coach would say to me, “Miller, you’re going to get one — maybe two — chances at fly balls out there. Make ’em count.” Well, put that way, I’d rather take a whack at third base or shortstop. With 10 or 12 plays coming to those positions over the course of a game, I figured I could be successful on at least two — maybe three — of the plays.
My limited baseball skills weren’t confined to just poor defensive play. Not only could I not judge a fly ball to save myself, I couldn’t hit the 12-year-old version of a fastball, and on those rare occasions I did get on base, I was a tentative base runner. Those drawbacks notwithstanding, I enjoyed the game, growing into a lifelong fan of the Twins and of the sport itself. While I fully appreciated the Rod Carews, the Kent Hrbeks, and the Kirby Pucketts, it was always the understudies, the Craig Kusicks, Jerry Terrells and Rob Wilfongs, I cheered for.
The runner on second base again has a sizeable lead. From the first base coach’s box, I see another dropped ball by the catcher. Go, I say quietly to myself. Go.
And before I know it — once again too soon — the boy is gone.
Glenn Miller lives in the Fulton Neighborhood. He is the owner of Miller & Associates, a corporate communications and video production firm (www.glennmillerandassociates.com).