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Rob Jenkins - 04/10/09
What I learned at the ball park

A recent trip to the ball park reminded me of the years I spent as a Little League dad - 12 years, in fact, during which I served as a head coach, a hitting coach, a pitching coach, a base coach, a scorekeeper and an umpire, all without leaving the comfort of my folding chair behind the backstop.

Just kidding. For 11 of those years, I actually coached three sons at six positions on 14 different teams, spanning three youth athletic associations across two time zones. But hey, who's counting?

That was a few years ago, though. My oldest son grew up, my middle son lost interest in baseball when he was about 11, and their youngest brother didn't even last that long. For the most part, they've all decided to focus on other sports, such as basketball and Madden NFL.

Still, the Little League years were very good to me, and I haven't forgotten the important lessons I learned from them, not only about baseball but about life.

For instance, I learned that my fundamental worth as a father depended entirely upon whether or not my son got a hit in any particular at-bat. In the mental math of baseball dads, a base hit or walk equals good parent, a ground out or pop up equals OK parent, and a strike out equals bad parent. That means even when my sons made All-Stars, I was only a good father about half the time.

I learned that if you're not any good by age 6, you probably never will be. No doubt that logic applies to writers as well as baseball players.

I learned the importance of statistical analysis in baseball. For example, did you know that the odds of any given child being picked for All-Stars are directly proportional to the correlation between the letters in his or her last name and the letters in the head coach's last name?

I learned that sometimes a young person just needs to branch out and try something new, and that one good time to put this philosophy into action is when the young person in question plays the same position as the head coach's child.

And finally, during the last year, in my new and unaccustomed role as spectator, I learned that not technically being a coach didn't have to prevent me from, well, coaching.

On the contrary, sideline dads have a duty to maintain a steady barrage of advice and inspirational platitudes from their perches behind the backstop. That their advice may contradict what the coach has been saying for the past three months is irrelevant.

So as I think back over my experiences with Little League baseball, I'd like to say a special thanks to those unsung heroes who make it possible for the sideline dads to do what they do: The folding chair manufacturers.