"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Only the Lonely

I was walking around the Bronx last Sunday afternoon when I stopped to catch some of the action at Kingsbridge Little League. I stood on the street, pressed against the fence, behind the bleachers. In front of me, a gaunt man in a bright orange and yellow shirt sat quietly watching the game.


The kids must have been about ten. It was brutally hot and I felt for the fielders especially after the pitcher walked the lead-off hitter. Then, he walked the next man and the one after that to load the bases. He was aiming the ball now. The pitcher heard a few scattered words of encouragement–I heard a woman say, “Settle down, Mikey, throw strikes.” But the worse he got, the more silent it became.

No place to hide. The boy hung his head. He kicked the dirt at his feet and held his palms out in exasperation after the umpire called a ball. His catcher had trouble getting the ball back to him–it either bounced in front of the mound or sailed over his head. Typical Little League comedy of errors.

A fat kid who looked like Lou Costello, two batting gloves carefully hanging out of the back pockets of his tight-fitting pants, came to the plate. He looked at two pitches in the dirt, took two strikes, and then looked at two more balls and earned himself an RBI. He trotted to first with his head in the air, pleased. He never intended to swing. I restrained myself from booing.

I looked at the scoreboard for the first time and was surprised that the score was just 6-4. The pitcher slumped his shoulders. The coaches were mum, his cheering section in the stands, silent. Finally, the catcher stumbled out to the mound and said a few words. As he was leaving, the third baseman and the shortstop approached. The pitcher covered his mouth with his glove and the third baseman laughed and went back to his position.

The next batter popped out to third and the one after that lined into double play. The agony was over and the pitcher slowly walked off the field. The opposing team was in no hurry to replace them. Finally, they shuffled to their positions as the tough-luck pitcher sat next to the man in the orange shirt in front of me. The man spoke in a clipped, terse voice. I couldn’t make out what he was saying but heard his tone–critical, angry. “I told you a thousand times…”

I walked away. It’s never too early to have the fun get beaten out of the game.

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1 Chyll Will   ~  Aug 18, 2009 12:06 pm

Yeah, I hate seeing that. This was almost a metaphor for the Yanks until that; only because I don't see Joe being that guy. I see many in the press like that, but not anyone on the Yanks except Big George, and he's not around like that anymore so...

2 Sliced Bread   ~  Aug 18, 2009 2:08 pm

Sounds like a bad job of coaching by the dad there. Kid had a rough inning and last thing he needs is another lecture about throwing strikes, or whatever. Hopefully that was just a bad inning for the dad, too -- and just like the kid got out of his jam, hopefully dad turned his own game around, and just gave the boy a quick hug, or pat of encouragment.

Based on the third baseman's laughter ,it seems the pitcher stlll knows how to have fun with his teammates. That's a very good thing. Lighten up, pops.

3 Cliff Corcoran   ~  Aug 18, 2009 2:15 pm

I only played one year of little league because of jackass coaches like that. I'm still pissed about it.

4 NYYfan22   ~  Aug 18, 2009 2:23 pm

I love watching Little League games. Yeah, but it's pretty frequent that you hear words like that. It's especially hard to bear when it's coming from a parent in the stands.

5 Sliced Bread   ~  Aug 18, 2009 2:28 pm

[3] yeah, happens to a lot of kids. One of my sons decided not to play soccer this fall. He's been playing for years, and seemed to like it alot, but I think he was turned off the game by the intense loudmouth coach he had last spring. The guy took these 7 year old soccer games waaaay to seriously, and personally. The league got a few complaints about him, and I just heard he's moving on to football this fall. No doubt he'll throw his fits, and very few, if any kids will want to play for him.

6 boslaw   ~  Aug 18, 2009 2:54 pm

What if the dad was just saying "i told you a thousand times, don't be so hard on yourself. Remember, it's only a game - have fun and relax. If they beat you today, shrug it off and go get them tomorrow. . ."

Probably didn't happen that way, but just sayin'

7 Alex Belth   ~  Aug 18, 2009 3:03 pm

Yeah, it wasn't that way. He cursed some, I just didn't hear it well enough to quote. Or paraphrase.

8 Just Fair   ~  Aug 18, 2009 3:04 pm

The JV team I coach is about 6 and 34 over the last 4 years. They stink to put it kindly (not my fault, I swear) I find it extremely hard to keep my composure at times due to frustration. But I'd say I'm encouraging 95% of the time. But some of my players have NEVER EVER received fundamental baseball instruction. So I've seen a few eyes well up the instant I begin to explain something. UGH. But any little league coach who acts like the Yankee coach in Bad News Bears should be thrown to the lions.

9 Chyll Will   ~  Aug 18, 2009 3:08 pm

[6] Not likely, from Alex's description of the man's tone of voice. Even if you are saying something encouraging, people and especially kids respond first to the tone of a person's voice before they interpret the context. If nothing else, the man should have restrained himself by counting to ten or even a hundred before saying anything to the boy.

[3] I feel you, Cliff. I played with a lot of kids whose parents were coaches that either showed too much favoritism to their offspring or were just too harsh with them. Then there was the rampant "politics" with certain umps. I chose not to continue after Little League, which I would have regretted if not for the serious health problems that showed up a couple years later.

Ah, but there was always stickball, street ball and backyard wiffle ball... >;)

10 The Hawk   ~  Aug 18, 2009 3:10 pm

I quit Little League because of the parents. Not my parents, just the whole scene. I don't remember any trouble from the coaches - I know mine was cool - but the parents were just awful. After a couple years, I was done.

11 The Hawk   ~  Aug 18, 2009 3:11 pm

[9] Hey I like that counting trick. Good one.

12 rbj   ~  Aug 18, 2009 3:47 pm

I bet if you just threw some equipment & a bunch of kids together without any adult supervision they'd have a lot more fun and would actually learn to settle disputes themselves. The other extreme is the "not keeping score, everyone gets a trophy" mentality, which only builds false self-esteem. I stunk at little league the one year I played. That's fine. I can enjoy watching baseball even if I can't play it.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver