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The greatest 10-and-under girls softball game I ever saw

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Believe it or not, there are times when youth sports really are all about the kids, playing now, at this moment. Not about parents, coaches, future scholarships, future pro careers, who’s on the travel team, or who’s bringing the snack. All of a sudden, a game gets so good and compelling, and the young players’ nerves of steel so awe-inspiring, that all you can do is watch and enjoy the ride.

Tonight, that was my 10-year-old daughter’s third-place softball game for in the kinda-sexist-named Petite Division of the Oak Lawn, Ill., house softball program.

Usually, a third-place game (I managed that same daughter in one two years ago) is a loose affair, what with the pressure of a championship gone. (Thank God.) My daughter Grace’s team is pretty loose to begin with, so they can practically barely stand erect as her Frost, the fourth-place team in the regular season, played the Storm, the second-place team.

The Frost went up 2-0 in the top of the first inning, and the Storm tied it in the bottom of the second. The bottom of the third wasn’t so good for the Frost. They gave up the maximum six runs in an inning, were down 8-2, and looked outmatched by a team that had four travel players to their one. The girls looked dispirited coming into the dugout — and didn’t look any better when they went down 1-2 in the top of the fourth. The coaches’ voices didn’t change pitch, but the Frost coaches seemed much louder as they urged their players.

But then, the magic started happening. The Frost scored four runs in the bottom of that inning, the last two, if I may brag, on a two-run opposite-field single by Grace. Now down only 8-6, the Frost’s spirits were back up, and the parents started getting a little more interested in the game. A few by me joked about not wanting to go to the bathroom, lest they miss anything. All that toilet talk made me have to use the bathroom (where, by the way, I was saw my daughter’s manager in the next stall).

Actually, not just the parents were zooming in their focus. This Frost-Storm game was taking long enough, games were finishing on other fields, and hearing about the comeback under way, players and their families decided to stick around and watch. Slowly more people were circling the field, cheering good plays (by either team), and making more of a buzz and ruckus than your average Florida Marlins home game.

I don’t know much about the Storm. But what they were seeing out of the Frost was pure guts. Players who normally didn’t hit were smacking balls. The Frost would get pushed to the edge of the abyss, then come fighting back. Again in the bottom of the fifth, the Frost got two quick outs. But then came four more runs — on two-run singles placed to about the same spot Grace placed hers. By the end of five-and-half innings, a 8-2 Frost deficit had become a 10-10 tie. More fans streamed toward the field, out of the impending darkness, to check out what was going on.

What was going on was two teams of 9- to freshly minted 11-year-old girls who were as cool and loose as the crowd was wound tight, especially we parents. It’s always difficult to watch your child play because you can’t protect them from injury or failure. It’s even harder when they are being put in situations that would make major-leaguers fold. In the Frost’s comeback, all of the eight runs they scored after falling behind came with two outs. A lot of them came with two strikes. I don’t think they even heard the parents or coaches anymore. I didn’t. I didn’t know of anything that wasn’t happening in front of me.

The Storm came back with one run in the bottom of the fifth to go up 11-10. That meant, for the Frost, score in the top of the sixth, or the game is over.

Grace was up first. She had two hard singles her first two at-bats. But she struck out against the same pitcher she already hit twice. If you followed me on Twitter and Facebook (and why wouldn’t you?), you would have seen this:

Grace strikes out to start 6th. Just setting team up for more two-out heroics.

Hey, after what I had seen the previous two innings, that was not a cocky thing to say. Meanwhile, the players and coaches for the Petite championship game, which was already supposed to have started, were now gathering around to watch.

It turns out the heroics were after one out. More girls smacked base hits to that same magic spot in right field, and the Frost ended the top of the sixth up 13-11. Do you believe in miracles?

The Storm didn’t become a second-place team by folding up easily, either. Though they appeared rattled at times that the Frost wouldn’t go away, they rallied for two runs in the bottom of the sixth and final regulation inning. They had the bases loaded with two out. One walk, and the game was over.

The Frost’s pitcher, Jackie, who in her first game pitching cried herself to distraction after her rough outing (so much I had Grace make a point to tell her everything was OK and her teammates had her back), was now in her third inning tonight — and she wasn’t backing down. Sure, she might get a little frustrated over a bad pitch, but her eyes were lasers into the catcher’s glove. The count works to two balls and two strikes. At this point, the 15,000 people were standing or on the literal edges of their seats to see what would happen. Discussion over how a 10-year-old girl can stomach this much pressure was rampant. If anybody brought Maalox, they were chugging it.

Jackie throws a pitch catching the outside part of the plate. Called strike three. Game is tied.

You know the cliche that it’s a shame somebody has to lose this game? (Ask John Isner and Nicolas Mahut about that one.) As it turned out, in Frost v. Storm for third place, no one had to. It was 8:35 p.m., 35 minutes after the championship game was supposed to have started. So no extra innings — there’s a tie for third.

For this game, there really was no other appropriate way to end it. I don’t know how the Storm felt. But the Frost players were beaming and jumping around with excitement over grinding out such a tough, um, not-win. After each game in their league, a team will form a line with players on each side, slapping hands and chanting, “We. Are. Proud of you, yeah, we are proud of you,” as the other team runs underneath — and then the teams reverse the lineup. In this case, I think the 27,000 fans who saw the end were ready to do the same chant with each team.

Oh, of course, there were some dimbulbs who couldn’t grasp the excitement of the moment. One old fart sitting next to me was ripping the coaches and the players like he was watching a Chicago White Sox game. Dude, these are volunteers coaches and 10-year-old girls, not full-time millionaire pros. Another guy was upset the Frost and Storm couldn’t play extra innings. I mean, really whining about it. Another parent mentioned to Grace’s coach that it’s too bad the Frost made so many errors, or they would have won.

My response is to quote my late father: If my aunt had balls, she’d be my uncle.

Who cares? Each team makes errors. Half the fun of watching this age group play is seeing how they recover from their mistakes — and both teams improved by leaps and bounds in learning how to forget their mistakes and move on.

It’s nearly three hours after the Frost-Storm game, and I’m still feeling a buzz about it. It’s the kind of buzz that keeps me excited about my kids’ games, even when around me there’s hassles with parents, coaches, future scholarships, future pro careers, who’s on the travel team, and who’s bringing the snack.

Your 2010 Frost, after losing to the eventual champion. Yep, they’re a loose group.

Powerball winner funds prep softball field, undermines hard-work message

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Coaches (such as myself) like to teach that hard work is the key to success, that luck is only the sudden opportunity to take advantage of all the time and focus a player has brought to the game. However, what we fail to accept is that sometimes chance and dumb luck happens, whether we like it or not.

At Enka High School in Candler, N.C., outside of Asheville, members of the Sugar Jets (great nickname, isn’t it?) softball team will get a reminder about how hard work knuckles under to the whims of chance whenever they step onto their first-ever home field — funded and named after the Sugar Jet Daddy who just won a metric assload of money in the Powerball lottery.

From the Asheville Citizen Times:

Enka expects to break ground next month on the $700,000 Griffin Field at Sugar Jet Park facility along Enka Lake Road. Its amenities will include seatback chairs, a press box, locker rooms, a laundry room and space for video study.

Most of the money for the project is coming from [family spokesman Kevin] Griffin’s family — his daughter is junior Chelsea Griffin and her grandfather, Frank, won a $141.4 million Powerball lottery jackpot in February.

I’m imagining Chelsea Griffin is being recruited by every club in the school right now. “Hey, Chelsea — wanna join the French Club and bring $100,000 with you?”

Talk about dumb luck: Frank Griffin, a retired Asheville firefighter, bought his winning ticket one day when he had $5 left after pumping gas and figured, what the hell, why not play the lottery. He let the computer pick the numbers. He didn’t know there was a $141 million drawing the night he bought the tickets, Feb. 6, 2010. So, to summarize, Griffin did not participate in a weekly pool, where he carefully plotted what numbers he thought had the best odds. He just decided to piss away $5 for fun, and ended up taking $69 million in a lump-sum payment, or $47 million after taxes. (By the way, do people still complain that winning the lottery is great, but for the damn taxes? I’m guessing Frank is pretty happy to clear $47 million, no matter what the IRS share.)

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Frank Griffin’s lottery-winning message to the guy who told him not to buy tickets: “Fuck you, Larry.”

The school isn’t totally relying on Frank Griffin’s lucky break-fueled generosity. It’s selling naming rights for the individual seats. Still, it’s not like Enka High had to sweat to woo Griffin. It was the lucky school that had his granddaughter on the roster.

You know how in a lot of sports stadiums or locker rooms, there’s an inspirational quote to fire up the team as it hits the field? At Griffin Field at Sugar Jet Park (I’ll buy a T-shirt with that logo), the quote should come from one of Eddie Murphy’s early skits on Saturday Night Live:

…Life is luck. If you’re not lucky, you’re a bum. So go ahead, drop out of school. Get each other pregnant and play Space Invaders.

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Go ahead, play it.

Pitchers and catchers report, youth baseball edition

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graces-camera-117

Gameface is ready.

This week was the managers’ meeting for those of us managing at the Shetland level of Oak Lawn (Ill.) Baseball. Shetland is 6- to 8-year-olds, which include my son (above). Like his last year of T-ball, and my first year of managing him, we are the Phillies. My wife’s reaction when I came home with the roster: a facepalm and “It’s not that time of year already, is it?”

I don’t know if this is universal, but in my little universe, spring sports season is the craziest. It’s not just my son playing baseball and me managing; my 10-year-old daughter plays softball, too. Two kids in an outdoor game that requires no rain, stone-dry fields and temperatures above 50 degrees means night after night of being on edge: is there practice? Is there not practice? Is there a game? Is there not a game? Should we show up and see if everybody’s there? Do I call the other manager and cancel? Damnit, now we have seven straight nights of games. Thank you, Chicago weather!

It makes me thankful my 12-year-old son has already retired from baseball, and that my 4-year-old daughter doesn’t play (yet).

For major-league managers, the onset of spring is getting into warm, cushy spring training digs and going over the assembled roster, much of which they already know. For me, the onset of spring is introducing myself to young kids and their parents, and begging them to be the one who brings the snack every game, or makes the team banner for our league’s annual parade, or handles the candy sale, or gets them to coach, or nicely informs them that if they don’t fulfill their volunteer commitment, it’s $300 out of their pocket next year.

It gets hectic quickly, and it turns into night after night of quick dinners and/or fast food.

But you know what? All the hassle is worth it. It’s nice to get back outside after months burrowing like Punxsutawney Phil in the crappy Chicago winters. It’s fun to watch the kids play. And for me, it’s fun to watch a group of little boys I’m managing improve and become friends over the course of the season. It’s fun to watch my own kids revel when they do well, and forget by the time the postgame snack arrives the times that they didn’t.

Written by rkcookjr

February 18, 2010 at 11:49 pm

Softball coach fired for employing sex offender husband — it gets weirder

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A little inside True/Slant baseball. This morning I got an email from the site’s own Kashmir Hill, saying she thought of me when she saw a story about a private school volleyball coach busted for kissing a 14-year-old girl. (This school, Brooklyn Poly Prep Country Day, is still reeling from the realization its late, longtime football coach was a child predator.) I thanked Kashmir for thinking of me, hoping it was because of this blog and not because I’ve given any indication of being a perv myself. I also mentioned that given the volumen of stories I see, I could probably make this site nothing but coach/student sex scandals (“That’s depressing,” Kashmir responded). I said I would leave most of that to Badjocks.com.

Well, thanks to Badjocks, I discovered a story that goes beyond the pale of the usual coach/student ickiness.

So in Palm Desert, Calif., the high school softball coach, Ashley Nieto, got fired for having a sex offender helping her out. That sex offender: her husband, Ronald Nieto. That husband’s victim: the softball coach herself.

But to crib a line from the great Captain Underpants series — OK, maybe a principal who runs around in his underpants is not the best literary character to cite in a piece like this — but before I tell you that story, I have to tell you this one.

1182191346_410bd47c8f“Tra-la-LAAA!”

According to the Desert Sun (Palm Springs, Calif.), Ashley Nieto, used her husband an assistant in 2004, until the district informed her and other coaches that every coach would have to be fingerprinted for a background check. Coach Nieto told the school about her husband’s sex offender past — a 1998 guilty plea to two counts of lewd activity with child younger than 16 — and was told her husband’s services in the dugout were no longer needed.

Except that he eventually made his way back to the dugout and helped work out the kids. The Nietos said there was a vendetta because a deputy district attorney’s daughter didn’t make varsity, although several parents came forward over the summer to tell the school Ronald Nieto worked with the girls on conditioning drills. Vendetta or not, and even though there was no evidence he ever harmed any Palm Desert player, Ronald Nieto couldn’t be working with the team.  and on Dec. 3, Ronald Nieto pleaded not guilty on Dec. 3 to charges of not disclosing his sex offender status, working with minors as a registered sex offender and being on campus without school officials’ permission.

Now about that Ashley-being-a-victim-of-Ronald thing.

Ronald’s conviction came when he was 38, and Ashley was 14. (He is now 50, she, 26.) Her contention is that she never wanted to press charges, but that her father demanded them. Parents just don’t understand, do they?

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Apparently, neither do the police, the school district, or just about anyone else. There is a time and place to argue that maybe we’ve gone overboard with putting people in the sex offender list (someone arrested for peeing outside? Really?), but this isn’t that place. If Ashley Nieto needs to work out her daddy issues or whatever with her aged husband, that’s her business. The Palm Desert softball team doesn’t need to be a part of it. That’s depressing.

Baring the teeth of the spring sports season

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Blogging has been a little sporadic lately, I know. The danger of posting as a youth sports coach and parent is that sometimes you get crunched by the responsibilities of being a youth sports coach and parent. Particularly when there has been a zillion rainouts, and you have two kids with softball/baseball teams (including the one you manage) playing four games a week (it seems) to make up all the missed games.

Speaking of which, that resulted in a situation on Saturday where I barked like one of my yappy Maltese dogs because an 11- and 12-year-old team refused to get off the field (on orders from its league vp) even though my T-ball team had the field for a regularly scheduled game, and they were there for a rainout. This was on our league’s one major field (we use neighborhood park fields otherwise). What upset me was not that someone made a mistake in scheduling, but that we were brushed aside because we only had little kids. I can’t say I was proud of how snippy I got, but the overall league president stepped in and order the bigger-kids team off the field (rightly so), and we got to play. Plus, some of the parents who got their kids up early (it was a 9 a.m. game) were pretty cranky themselves at the thought they dragged everyone’s butt out of bed only to be told to turn around and go home and get out of the big kids’ way.

I’m over it now. Really!

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