Friday, June 4, 2010

The Bane of Youth Sports

Well, I guess that’s the end of my career as a Little League manager.

I’ve been wanting for decades to manage a youth team, but something always got in the way. In the 70s it was my abuse of various substances, and in the 80s because I was too focused on my career. Just before the 90s began, we had the Loma Prieta earthquake, and it took me the better part of the decade to get over that, and then in the new century I moved to London, where baseball was virtually unheard of, except by a bunch of beer-swilling Aussies who convened every Sunday afternoon on a nearby playing field and “chatter” in the annoying accents of their homeland, and boy, did that not sound right!

I could have coached basketball, of course, except that all I know about it is that I love watching it on TV and used to enjoy playing it at Fairfax High School after my daily run around the track, even though the place was crawling with over-achieving nudniks intent on instructing me in the fine points of the game in spite of the fact that I didn’t want their instruction, and who regularly snickered, “He can’t go left.” I didn’t think I’d be much of a football coach, as I can’t draw up complicated plays or squint very convincingly, and hockey was something people played somewhere else in the solar system, somewhere very far from Playa del Rey.

My first official act as manager of the Southern Dutchess Little League’s Bouquets (the team’s local sponsors, who pay for their uniforms and what-not, get to pick their names, and we were sponsored by Hirsch the Florist, over on Route 52) was to tell them I didn’t give a damn about winning. My view is that the bane of youth sports is that parents, trying to get their kids to make up for their own undistinguished athletic pasts, fill the kids’ heads with pernicious crap like Winning isn’t the best thing, but the only thing. I told the kids that the odds of any of them getting to play baseball for a living were only very slightly better than those of their parents winning the lottery, and that if I had my way, we wouldn’t even keep score, but play entirely for fun.

The next day at practice, I was surrounded in the parking lot by four dads who were sure that their boys were destined to play for the Yankees. I hadn’t been out of my SUV for 10 seconds before they’d blackened both my eyes, broken my nose, broken some ribs, and knocked out two of my front teeth, but I couldn’t allow any of that to deter me.

When I used to play tennis rather than hoops at Fairfax after running, I’d often hear parents screaming bloody murder at their children’s soccer games. Once I even got into a little shouting match with a particularly abusive coach, who asserted that reducing his 10-year-old players to shamed tears was good for their characters. Just after I got the Bouquets job I put a little ad in the Pennysaver for a marksman, and heard from several young Iraq veterans with sniping experience. With my own money, I hired two of them to pick off any adult they observed berating a player or umpire during any of our games. We lost two dads and an uncle that way at our first game, against the Exterminators (sponsored by East Fishkill Pest Control), and you should have heard the league office, according to whom it was a parents’ God-given right to behave like perfect assholes at youth sports, and who did I think I was?

Al Capone was eventually imprisoned for tax evasion, and what really did me in wasn’t the snipers, but my insistence that at the ends of games — when teams traditionally chant, Two, four, six, eight, who do we appreciate (or, as a team’s smartass invariably puts it, sincerely hate)? [Other team]! [Other team!] Yay!, and then glaringly, begrudgingly touch fists with their counterparts — each of us would embrace each of them as he might a brother, and say, “Way to go, big guy!” One of the dads spread a rumor that I thus was priming my players to march in Beacon’s annual Gay Pride parade, and that was the last straw.

[Many of my books are now available for download from Amazon. They include The Total Babe & Other Wine Country Yarns, Lentils on the Moon (aka A Message From Jesus in Braille, aka A History of the Jews in the Hudson Valley, Self-Loathing: An Owner's Manual, Third World USA, The Mona Lisa's Brother, and, for baseball nuts, Foul Balls and Alpha Males. You need neither a Kindle nor an iPad to enjoy 'em; simply download (free) Kindle software for either Mac or Windows, and enjoy them on your laptop or other computer!]

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