Friday, May 16, 2008

There is no Crying in Baseball (or Softball)

I have recently been honored to assist in coaching my girls’ softball teams. I’m ok with the little ones. Six year olds don’t require much in the way of coaching – in fact almost anything you can tell them is useful to them. It ends up being a lot of encouragement, and just getting them to pay attention. I’ve been told that the attention part is even harder with boys. I believe that.

The older one actually requires some real coaching. I tried coaching third base for part of a game. It wasn’t pretty. I played some ball as a kid and let’s just say my career was relatively undistinguished. I enjoyed it, but baseball (like team sports in general) just never really captured my imagination the way it does with many boys. So there are a lot of things about the game that I never really paid much attention to. For instance, in a force play the fielder must tag the base, not the runner. Not knowing this leads to some poor coaching, unfortunate outs, and crying girls.

Since, as we all know, there is no crying in baseball, and since there are two other dads who are much better at coaching in the field than I am, I opted out of coaching on the field, and have adopted a new position. I am now the official scorekeeper.

If, like me, you have never kept score in baseball before, you should know that there is much more to it than counting runners crossing home plate. You must account for balls and strikes, walks, batters hit by the pitch, singles, doubles and triples and home runs. You must also track bases stolen, and RBI’s. And don’t forget to record the play that got the batter out, whether it was a grounder to 3rd thrown to first for the out, a pop fly to the outfield, a 2nd base to 1st base double play or any other possible combination. It all must be recorded.

Thankfully, there is a system for this. It is a complex, but very logical, ménage of lines and marks and numbers drawn on a mini diagram of a ball field. When done properly, you should be able to literally reconstruct a game by reviewing the score sheet. I am extra grateful that at the level of game at which I am working, much of the aforementioned complications are not common. For my girls, a walk is the most common way to get on base, runners can only steal one base at a time on an error by the catcher, and the likelihood of making an out with an actual play is relatively low. Therefore, I am getting good practice in the method of baseball notation in a relatively stress free situation.

I have to say though, that proper scorekeeping requires a very high level of focused attention over a number of hours. When the game is done, I’m pretty tired out, even though I’ve spent a few hours only making little pencil marks in a book. It’s not the physical effort – it’s the mental effort. I am surprised at what it takes.

I understand that many true believer baseball fans keep score at games as a matter of course. I can actually see the value in this. If you do it long enough patterns of the game will certainly begin to reveal themselves almost intuitively. I actually find it kind of fun. It relieves the head coach of a chore that he considers a bit of a headache, and allows him to focus on what he does best which is instructing, directing, teaching and encouraging the girls. It keeps me out of trouble, and helps to insure that I don’t make anybody cry. That’s a good thing.


Assistant Village Idiot said...

I made them cry coaching 7th-8th grade girls' basketball. Don't treat them as you would boys. It only works with half of them. The other half - not so much.

Fathers are supposed to teach their sons or daughters how to score a baseball game, so that when those children grow up and run for president they can impress people. I didn't do this for my sons. Teaching them chess is better for their intellectual development, but it doesn't get them any more votes.

Wyman said...

Yeah, I was there for that bit of coaching. AVI tried treating 7th grade girls the same way he would treat 12th grade boys. I'm sure nothing he said was actually wrong, of course, but girls on that team will still ask me "remember when your dad helped coach our team and he just made us all cry?"

For the record, he did a great job coaching me, but then I imagine there was very little point in my life where I responded to sports the same way a 7th grade girl would.