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Posts Tagged ‘Little League

Little League coaches can use video, rather than yelling, to overturn calls

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Supporters of using video replay extensively in Major League Baseball take note: calls in freakin’ Little League are going to be subject to review. Calls of volunteer umpires in the Little League World Series. Calls of volunteer umpires who, despite the millions Little League reaps from its ABC/ESPN television contract, have to pay their own way to get to South Williamsport, Pa.

From a press release put out by Little League:

Replays in the previous two years were limited only to those plays that should have resulted in a dead ball, but were called otherwise by the volunteer umpires who work the Little League Baseball World Series each year. This year, video replay will be expanded to more plays, such as force-outs, tags on the base paths, missed bases, and hit batters.

“We are able to do this for the third year because all of the Little League Baseball World Series games are televised on ABC or the ESPN family of networks,” Stephen D. Keener, President and Chief Executive Officer of Little League Baseball and Softball, said. “As we have seen even in the professional ranks, certain calls in baseball are among the most difficult for officials to make, for a variety of reasons. Using video replay, since we have the means to get the call right, is the right thing to do.”

Goddamn right it’s the right thing to do, especially with all the gambling money I’ve lost because of shit calls by volunteer chumpires who had to pay their way to a central Pennsylvania assmunch of a town. I’m sure you feel the same way.

By the way, if you would like a template to cite for your angry emails — some, amazingly, written in crayon — to MLB Commissioner Bud Selig about extensive use of replay in baseball, Little League provides you with rules.

There are two scenarios in which video replay would be used. One is if the umpire who made the shit call confers with the other umpires, and they don’t have the Little League regulation balls to decide what shit call to make. So check the replay.

The other is a coach’s challenge. Whenever ha manager’s mustache starts twitching with anger and regret, he can throw a flag to get a video review of the umpire’s shit call. The parents, however, must yell at the ump and question the color of his underwear, just like they do at non-televised games.

Will this work? Maybe. Then maybe Major League Baseball will see how good video replay is for the game and apply to umpires who are salaried and get a per diem for their travel from ballpark to ballpark. And maybe then my bookie won’t be sending guys to claim my healthy kneecaps as collateral.

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Written by rkcookjr

August 4, 2010 at 12:44 am

Youth baseball coach/dad reacts violently to player/son acting violently

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“Who taught you to totally lose your shit when you got mad? Huh?”

“YOU, DAD! I learned it by watching you!”

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From The Associated Press:

Youth baseball coach Ray Boudreau of suburban Harrisburg, Pa., is charged with simple assault after his 9-year-old son was punched in the face for being ejected from a game.

According to court papers, Boudreau struck his son twice with a closed fist at the game [July 5], but defense attorney Brian Perry says that while Boudreau handled the situation poorly, he actually struck the boy on the back.

Boudreau is scheduled to appear at a hearing on July 27.

Court papers say the umpire and scorekeeper called police, who arrested Boudreau at his Enola home.

An officer says he observed redness on the boy’s face.

Perry says Boudreau spent Monday night in jail.

He said the boy was ejected for throwing his helmet after he was thrown out at third base.

Written by rkcookjr

July 12, 2010 at 4:59 pm

Michigan town boycotts Little League playoffs

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All over the nation, all-star teams in no-star towns are starting the long road to South Williamsport, Pa., and its Little League World Series. I would ask the fine folks of the Little League in Escanaba, Mich., to throw out the first pitch, except they’ve already taken their ball and gone home.

Escanaba, a city of 12,000 on the Lake Michigan coast of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, has elected to sit out the Little League playoffs in a decision its local board ungrammatically said “was not easy but was forced by years of working the bureaucrat system.” Are any of them members of the Democrat party?

So what is the problem? Like India and Pakistan in Kashmir, and you and your little brother over the backseat of your parents’ 1979 Cutlass, the issue is a border dispute.

According to the Daily Press of Escanaba, that city’s Little League started in 1951, and took a trip to the World Series in 1957. However, Gladstone, a city of 5,000 seven miles up the coast, formed its own Little League in 1973, in part because of fiddling with Escanaba’s boundaries so it could keep as much of the city as possible and meet the Little League standard of a population of 15,000. One section was lopped off “because many of the residents were senior citizens and if there were any children they were more likely to be interested in sailing, tennis or golf.” When families in that area complained that their kids indeed like baseball, too, when they weren’t busy being little Newport, R.I., the borders were readjusted, and upset parents in the newly carved-out territory joined forces with Gladstone, where it remains to this day.

(By the way, the territory Gladstone’s Little League serves includes an area my father, a Boston native who came to Upper Michigan when he was assigned there in the Air Force, derisively referred to as “nowhere.” As in, when he was dating my mother, a Gladstone native, my father — used to cities and suburbs that all blended together — while they were driving asked her, “Where are we?” My mom said, “Between Gladstone and Escanaba.” My dad said, “No, what city are we in?” My mom said, “We’re not in one. We’re between Gladstone and Escanaba.” My dad said, “But if we died in a car accident, where would they say we died?” My mom said, “Between Gladstone and Escanaba.” My dad said, “So you mean, ‘Nowhere.’ “)

Funny story: Over the years, Little League raised its population maximum per territory to 20,000, and Escanaba’s population declined to below 15,000 anyway. So there was no need to adjust territories. Also, the territory Escanaba lopped off happened to supply a fair number of players. So Gladstone, with less than half the population of Escanaba, has 402 registered players, while Escanaba has 332.

Escanaba would like its players back, you know, for the kids. A release Escanaba put out in May, announcing its Little League playoff boycott, boo-hooed: “[I]t is very difficult for a coach or a board member to have to tell an Escanaba student that they cannot play ball with their school friends.” It hurts them more than it hurts you, kid.

Of course, this argument is going over in Gladstone as well as a fart in deer camp.

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A fart in deer camp, courtesy of Jeff Daniels’ 2001 opus, “Escanaba in da Moonlight.”

Says Gladstone Little League president Mike Gobert, in the Daily Press: “With the program we have, we have a pretty good set-up. I’m perfectly satisfied with the way it is.” Of course.

Actually, the Gladstone Little League is right, and I’m not just saying that because my mother grew up there, and because my grandmother ran the Daily Press Gladstone bureau for years. (In Gladstone, not between Gladstone and Escanaba.) If Escanaba hadn’t tried to game the system decades before, it wouldn’t be in the trouble it is today, like what people say about Reaganism and the state of the present American economy.

I’m not sure what Escanaba thinks it can gain by a boycott. The Gladstone Little League says it is getting calls from Escanaba parents asking if they can enter their kids on a Gladstone all-star team, but that isn’t happening. So the kids are upset, and I doubt the Escanaba parents are blaming Gladstone. Anyway, I don’t think that when Brent Musberger takes the mike for the Little League World Series, he’ll say, “We have some great teams here, but they’ll all have an asterisk, because mighty Escanaba never played.”

On top of that, Escanaba lost the right to host any Little League playoffs. The girls senior division goes to Manistique, population 3,500, while the age 11 state tournament shifts to — ha ha — Gladstone. Given that the Upper Michigan economy was never great even when it was good, the only thing Escanaba’s boycott is accomplishing is preventing people from spending much-needed money there.

I hope the Escanaba bureaucrat system is happy with that.

Too competitive to coach?

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There are certain personalities that aren’t made for youth sports coaching, though that doesn’t stop them from coaching anyway. Jennifer Gish, a parenting columnist for the Times-Union in Albany, N.Y., thinks she is one of those personalities.

She wrote a series of columns about a baseball team of 7- to 9-year-olds the Times-Union co-sponsored, and by her own description she played an over-the-top competitive team owner. But then as the team’s season drew to a close, Gish — a mother of toddler twins yet to reach the age of getting yelled at by other people’s parents for their sports abilities — came to an unnerving conclusion. Maybe her columnist persona wasn’t an act. From her Times-Union blog:

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An early rough of “The Jennifer Gish Story.”

So, I’ve already barred myself from coaching Andrew and Matilda in any future athletic pursuits. And maybe dance class. And maybe I won’t help them get ready for the school spelling bee, either.

Looking over at the t-ball fields one day, I thought maybe I’d be OK at that level, but I’m not so sure. I have issues, people.

I’ve always been competitive, and I’ve learned that it’s very difficult to turn that off, even when it comes to kids. I had a tension headache all day the day of my Little League team’s playoff game, and felt queasy through every inning. Meanwhile, the kids, who are 7- to 9-years-old after all, kept busy debating whose dad was oldest.

I don’t think I’m at the level of keying some umpire’s car over a bad call. And I probably wouldn’t be the parent who gets tossed out of a game, but I don’t like what was going on in my head. And I’d hate to project that to the kids.

So this mom’s benched. For life.

I’d like to first congratulate Jennifer Gish on her self-awareness. Better to discover this flaw now, then when she’s actually coaching a team and becomes single-handedly responsible for her kids’ future therapy sessions, as well as the future therapy sessions of every other kid on the team, as well as the future therapy sessions of every parent, opposing coach, league official and umpire who ever crosses her path.

However, she has passed the first step on the 12-step program to becoming a good youth coach. (Sometimes the admitting you have a problem is not about competitiveness — it may be about a lack of competitiveness, a lack of knowledge of the sport in question, or a lack of motivation to coach for any reason beyond grooming kids for their future molestation by you.)

I left a comment on Gish’s blog, which as of this writing is not up because it is in the dreaded limbo of “awaiting moderation.” But I make these points:

1. If you’re that bad, maybe you shouldn’t even go to your kids’ games.

2. However, this competitiveness is common. As a coach, I feel like parents of younger kids (except, perhaps, those who have older kids and have been through this before) run in only two directions: over-the-top competitive, or over-the-top believing that fun at sports means no coaching, no scores, no nothing.

3. That there is time to modulate whatever extreme you have as a parent of young children. I recommended to Gish that she go to kids’ games in which she has no rooting interest. Once she sees all the parents and coaches acting like loons, that should take the edge off her competitiveness a bit.

Written by rkcookjr

June 27, 2010 at 11:15 pm

The fine line between coaching and tyranny

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David St. Hubbins knows of fine lines.

As a coach — or anyone who manages people of any age, for that matter — one of the trickiest parts of the job is knowing when to push, and knowing when to step off the gas. Making that trick even more complicated is that you want your players, even if they detest you at the time for pushing them, to look back someday (the next day, the next week, when they’re sitting with their grandkids) and realize that you did the right thing. As a youth coach, you hope the parents feel the same way — especially because the definition of “pushing too hard” is very, very flexible in their collective eyes.

In one of my favorite books, Terry Pluto’s “Loose Balls,” a history of the American Basketball Association, a general manager explains this philosophy as he relates ex-NBA all-star Cliff Hagan’s mindset when he became an ABA coach: “I had eight coaches in the pros. I liked six of them and hated the other two. The only ones we won with were the guys I hated.”

Of course, executing this philosophy was a little simpler for Hagan than it is for your everyday youth coach today. For one thing, Hagan was managing pros, so he didn’t have to worry about parents, equal playing time, or the after-game snack. Also, this was the 1960s, when coaches from pee-wee level up were practically expected to yell, or else it didn’t sound like coaching. (Part of what made the late John Wooden so radical was that he didn’t raise his voice.) As a youth coach, you always have to strike a tricky balance between teaching and pushing your kids to excel, and not pushing otherwise engaged kids right out of the sport — or pushing parents to yell at you.

Recently an article appeared that had me thinking of the high-wire act that is coaching my 7-year-old son’s baseball team. On the Chicago Tribune website, the story was titled: “Teacher or Tyrant? What do you do when your kid’s hard-driving coach — or ballet teacher — steps over the line into full-fledged cruelty?”

When former U.S. Olympic gymnast Dominique Moceanu said her coach Martha Karolyi once slammed her face into a phone and that Martha’s husband, Bela, twice berated her for her weight in front of teammates, the sports world was shocked.

Kind of.

Other gymnasts downplayed the complaints of Moceanu, who was only 14 when she competed on the 1996 gold-medal team, and praised the Karolyis’ results. …

And therein lies the dilemma for parents of children who are seriously involved in sports and the arts. Many of the best coaches and instructors are disciplinarians who push kids hard and get results; a few are tyrants who push their players too hard or berate them cruelly.

How are parents of hard-driving kids supposed to tell the difference? And even if you know you have a tyrant on your hands, how much can you really do to contain the behavior of an adult with the power to bench your sports-loving son or derail your daughter’s college scholarship?

First, to answer that question before I get to how this applies to those of us who coach or have kids in far less elite situations. If you and your child (or just you, pushing your child) are investing heavily in a career as an elite anything, at some point your child is going to get pushed — hard. With so many parents and children competing for the same spots, coaches know that if you don’t like it, there are 1,000 others waiting in line to take whatever guff they’ll give. Don’t count on other parents, even if they are appalled by the coach’s behavior, to join you in some sort of boycott or fight.

In most cases, your option, cruel as it sounds, is like it or lump it. If the cost of being an elite athlete or performer is you and/or your child’s sanity, maybe that Olympic gold is worth too much.

Now, for the rest of us: where is that fine line between coaching and tyranny? In the eye of the beholder, that’s where.

In the 1960s, as a coach I could be Cliff Hagan, yelling at kids, and no one would have thought anything of it, in part because parents didn’t go to every practice and game like they do now, so they would have never seen it. When my father pulled my brother and I off a Little League baseball team in 1980 because he thought the coach was such a raging asshole, even for that time that was an unusual move. (It paid off — the next year my brother and I were on a different team with more mellow coach, and we won our league championship, while raging asshole’s team was at the bottom of the league.)

People write stories about whether coaches yell more than they used to, but the truth is that coaches on the whole probably do so less than they did even back in my day, when I was walking with no shoes in a snowstorm to school, which was five miles away, uphill both ways. Parents at the time hoped that sports would be a positive experience, but they didn’t demand it be a positive experience as they do now. Not that the demand is a bad thing. But what it’s done is, for some parents, move the fine line between coaching and tyranny to a place where a coach might not able to say anything without getting grief.

Twice this season in coach my son’s 7-year-old baseball team, I’ve had parents upset with me because they’ve felt I’ve pushed their kids — and the whole team — too hard. No doubt, I do push. I expect the kids to pay attention, to be good teammates, to not climb the backstop fence, to not hit each other, to do what their coaches ask. As I explained to one parent, I’m not asking anything that their teachers don’t ask them to do in school. I know I have a loud voice, and I know that sometimes I test the limits of how far to push a 7-year-old. It’s a no-score league, so I’m not pushing them to win. I’m pushing them to become better baseball players and teammates. (Note: It’s my blog, so I can make myself sound like the hero.)

That parents would quibble with my style is to be expected. It happens to every coach. What has shocked me, however, is something I’ve never heard, ever, until now. Both sets of complaining parents, when I said that I expect the kids to listen (say, when I’m giving instruction, or when I’m telling them not to swing a bat in the dugout), responded, each with almost these exact words: “They’re just kids. If they don’t want to listen, you shouldn’t make them.”

Is that where the fine line between coaching and tyranny is? That if I expect kids to do anything other than exactly what they want at the time they want it, I’m a raging asshole?

The second incident with a parent came after I told their kid he wasn’t going to bat because he refused my request for him to pinch-run for a teammate. His teammate, the first batter up, got hit on the hand with a pretty fast pitch, and was very sore and upset. I asked this particular kid to pinch-run because he was last in the batting order. He said, no, he wouldn’t. I asked him again. He said no. I asked him again. He said no. I said he wouldn’t have his turn at bat if he didn’t get on first base. He said no. So I sent another kid out (who dutifully and smartly put on a helmet and ran to first base), and told the refusenik he wasn’t going to get his turn at bat.

That might seem harsh, but I try to teach these kids that there are consequences for your actions. I wasn’t asking the kid to clean the dugout with his tongue. I was asking him to do what 7-year-olds normally love to do — run the bases. (Again, it’s my blog, so I can be the hero.)

The reason this fine line between coaching and tyranny can be so tricky at a youth level is because, particularly with younger kids, you’re colliding with parenting styles. Maybe, at home, there are parents who let their kids do what they want, when they want, and there’s never a consequence for doing anything wrong. I don’t know. But I do know that when you’re coaching, one parent can praise you as a good coach and teacher, while the next thinks you’re a raging asshole.

And if you’re a youth coach, that’s how things are going to be. Like it or lump it.

Prayer and sports: An uncomfortable pairing of Biblical proportions

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On the National Day of Prayer, let me state that I’m no fan of mixing sports and religion.

I don’t like Bible verses on eyeblack, Bible verses on banners, prayers over the loudspeaker, and prayers led by the coach in an optional ceremony that, really, you aren’t compelled to take part in, unless you want your ass nailed to bench like Jesus’ wrists. I was thrilled when the U.S. Supreme Court, no bastion of atheists, in 2009 refused to hear the appeal of a New Jersey high school football coach fighting his public school district so he could lead team prayers, especially because the court refused to swallow the glop served by friends of the court such as the American College Football Association:

There is a reason why persons are not typically moved to pray before playing monopoly, or bridge, or a round of golf with friends, but frequently are moved to pray immediately prior to or after playing a high school or college football game. It’s not just the violent nature of the sport and the ever-present possibility of serious and perhaps life-altering injury; it’s also the sense that these games are important signposts marking the road to becoming an adult.

I also will cheer when the rulings of that Supreme Court will be used to beat down a pandering bill passed in April in the Florida House that would would “bar schools from infringing on the First Amendment freedoms of teachers, staff or students unless they sign a written waiver of those rights,” basically a way to get around the ACLU’s victory over the Santa Rosa County (Fla.) School Board allowing its Christian fascists to run wild, practically requiring preaching at the public school.

For the record, technically speaking, I am Christian, having been baptized Catholic, confirmed Episcopalian, married Catholic, baptized my four kids Catholic, then jumped to the United Church of Christ. The latter denomination holds great appeal because I think it does what any religion can do best: evangelize not by loudly proclaiming how Godly you are, or how unGodly someone is, or how much you love Jesus you just can’t help but speak in tongues during a timeout in your high school basketball game. It emphasizes showing your spirit through, basically, being a good person and doing good things, and letting people catch on that maybe your faith has something to do with that.

No denomination or faith has a monopoly on that, of course. But that explains my mistrust of people and institutions that feel they must bash you over the head with their religion, demanding your participation and conversion lest ye be called a savia hata.

However, I (hopefully) am open-minded enough to realize that even when people are bringing forced prayer into places I don’t think it should go, sometimes the people who oppose them can be even bigger jackholes.

Case in point: a dispute over mixing prayer and youth baseball in Medford, Ore., where apparently it’s fairly common for coaches to end a Little League practice or game with a few words for The Man Upstairs. Given the Little League pledge — “I trust in God. I love my country and will respect its laws. I will play fair and strive to win. But win or lose, I will always do my best.” — it doesn’t seem outside the realm of possibility for prayer to be involved.

As manager, I wouldn’t do it for my 7-year-old’s baseball team, not just because we’re not associated with Little League, and not just because we have at least one Muslim on the team, and not just because of my own prickly feelings about prayer and sport. It’s also because 6- and 7-year-old boys have about a 3-second attention span, so I would get only as far as “Oh God…” before someone told a fart joke.

Anyway, a Medford National Little League assistant coach, Mike E. Miles, didn’t cotton to the Jesusness of his manager Chris Palmer, who started with asking his players to take a knee after practice, then escalated from there. Miles told the Medford Mail Tribune that Palmer asked if anyone objected. But showing the youth sports political skill that got him on the league’s board, Miles told the paper, “As a parent and assistant coach, what do you say? ‘No, we don’t like Jesus or God’?” Miles’ antenna were particularly up because his daughter is on the baseball team — the only girl on the team.

As anyone associated with youth sports knows, reasonable people did not meet to discuss their differences to come to a mutually agreeable conclusion. Instead, Miles went to the board and called for Palmer to be fired. Instead, on May 2, a few days after his complaint, Miles was booted off the board, and he took his daughter off the team.

The board was full of Jesus people ready to smack down someone who wouldn’t pray on the field, right? Maybe. But Miles was making his own bed to shit in. From the Medford Mail Tribune:

The prayers continued. Miles remained silent — until Palmer questioned Miles’ integrity for teaching “cat and mouse” base-running techniques. Players are taught to feign injuries and stumble on the base paths in order to confuse the opponent — and score runs, Miles said.

“[Palmer] called me deceitful,” Miles said. “These are standard plays. Miles Field was named after my dad (Shorty Miles). He’s saying my father and the great coaches who taught me these plays are unethical. I went ballistic. I admit it.”

Palmer is right. And Miles is right. Palmer shouldn’t lead the team in prayer if everyone isn’t comfortable, and Miles shouldn’t teach 9-year-olds how to get an extra base by pretending to have a sudden knee energy.

If I may give myself permission to offer my own prayer, I pray these men see the error of their ways, and we can get back to sports with metaphysical conflict.

Written by rkcookjr

May 6, 2010 at 6:30 pm

When a Little Leaguer has cancer

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This story out of Haverstraw, N.Y., about an 8-year-old Little Leaguer with leukemia brought back from strong memories for me, because two years ago I was managing a team of kids around that age in a similar, difficult situation. From the Journal News in White Plains, N.Y.:

Sean DePatto ran onto the Haverstraw Little League field Friday with the energy one might expect from an 8-year-old ballplayer.

But what impressed the parents, coaches and players before the Haverstraw Devil Rays took on the Haverstraw Phillies Friday night was that Sean ran out onto the field after rushing back from Manhattan, where he had just undergone six hours of chemotherapy. …

Like the manager of the Haverstraw Devil Rays, I knew before my 2008 season of managing the 8- and 9-year-old Cyclones softball team in Oak Lawn, Ill., that one of my returning players would be recovering from leukemia. That’s because the girl, Olivia, lived just down the block and was good friends with my daughter, Grace.

In midsummer 2007, soon after my then-8-year-old daughter’s first softball season, my first as an assistant coach, and after Grace and Olivia had both played in their league all-star game, Olivia was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia.  Her mother feared the worst when she noticed Olivia’s lethargy and an unusual amount of bruising on her legs. Olivia’s family was told that while the five-year survival rate was 80 percent, it would take two-and-a-half years of treatment, including intense chemotherapy, before she would be back to anything resembling normal.

When we told Grace about Olivia’s sickness, we didn’t use the c-word, cancer. With the prognosis for recovery good, we didn’t want to scare her that she would possibly be losing a friend. Later, Grace came home from a visit to Olivia’s house (often the visits were brief because of Olivia’s lack of energy, a combination of the leukemia and the therapy) and asked us if we knew Olivia had cancer.

As adults, you get worried about how your child is going to take bad news from you. It never occurs to you that their fellow child will deliver it, and do so in a way that’s a lot less scary than your tiptoeing around.

It got to the point that, at least as far as Grace and Olivia were concerned, her disease and treatment routine became a matter-of-fact kind of thing — to them, anyway. For us adults, Olivia’s ability to handle so much struggle with so much ease was much more amazing. Olivia’s hospital gave her an award for her courage in the face of leukemia and all it entails. Then again, Olivia had never shown herself to shirk away from trouble. Grace and Olivia first met at age 3, when as her parents walked her down the block after just moving in, Grace — who then as now towers over Olivia — put up her dukes and chirped, “You wanna play fight?” Olivia didn’t say yes — but she didn’t back away, either.

When her hospital gave Olivia the award, the press release that came with it said that because of exhaustion, she could have to curtail her favorite activities, such as dance and riding her scooter.

Softball wasn’t mentioned, but as the 2008 season approached, I, as manager that year, fully expected Olivia not to play, even though her parents had signed her up the previous October, quite an act of positive thinking only a few months after her diagnosis. Olivia’s mother told me she would miss pre-season practices because of an especially intense round of treatment, but that she would be available for games. I went overboard emphasizing that it was up to her and Olivia, and that I wanted her guidance on what Olivia could handle. She said she would give it to me, and that, by the way, she’d also like to be the snack parent again this year.

I also explained to the team and the league what was going on with Olivia. With the team, as my wife and I were with Grace when we first learned of Olivia’s diagnosis, I was more circumspect about the c-word. I explained that Olivia had been sick and was getting treatment, and that they shouldn’t be surprised about Olivia’s lack of hair. Instead of a visor, Olivia would wear a cap given to the managers and coaches that her mother cut up and sewed so it would fit her head. As an added touch, she colored the white lettering on the black cap green so it would match the color of the lettering of the black visors worn by her fellow Cyclones.

Unlike Sean DePatto’s teammates in Haverstraw, neither my girls (nor their coaches) shaved their heads in support. That’s a great idea, and I thought about whether to suggest it. However, I figured that might be a lot to ask to a group of girls, particularly on a team which had members going through their Catholic First Communion during the season. Plus, I got the sense that the last thing Olivia wanted was attention as the Sick Girl, and having a team full of bald heads would only make that more plain.

Unlike Sean DePatto, Olivia by this point was well enough to go to school. But I think this statement by Sean’s mother, Kim, applies to Olivia as well, or any sick children who, if they don’t understand how serious their illness might be, understand the frustration of being told you can’t do your favorite things, and the determination to be able to do them again: “For him to be able to participate with the baseball team is giving him such a rush … It really makes a tremendous difference for him.”

I did not realize until the season was close to the end that Olivia sometimes would come straight to the game from, say, a spinal tap. All I knew was, Olivia, except for her jury-rigged cap, looked no different from the girl who played the previous year. Between her small stature and her quick bat, she was a tough out. And she again was one of our best pitchers. She could pitch two straight innings without getting frustrated or distracted, even if she got herself into a jam.

The only signs of Sick Girl were when the brother of an opposing team member tried to rip off her hat, and my constant asking of Olivia whether she was all right, which I asked so often she probably wondered whether something was wrong with me.

Otherwise, she ran with her teammates, played catch with her teammates, and sang the same interminable cheers that softball girls appear to know without anyone ever having taught them. I chose Olivia as one of our team’s all-star representatives because she was one of our best players. (In the picture to the upper right is Olivia, on the left, and Grace on the right.)

Sean DePatto’s coaches and teammates say that they are all better for having had Sean on the team, and I can say the same thing about myself and Olivia’s fellow Cyclones. I’m not sure how those girls will remember the experience. Maybe it’s because Grace and myself knew Olivia long before she got sick, or maybe it was her own determination to play well no matter what. But I don’t recall any overly emotional moments related to her being ill. All I remember is a kid who played hard on a team I had fun managing. I suspect in later years Grace will crystallize and share with my wife and I more of her own memories, and that they will probably have a lot more to do with the one-on-one time she spent with Olivia at her house during the worst of her therapy and illness, and not so much about the softball.

The next year, Grace and Olivia moved up an age group in their league, and they ended up on different teams. I switched to managing my son’s T-ball team, leaving Grace’s softball training in much more capable hands. Olivia ended her treatments for leukemia and is cancer-free. She also got back her head of hair. In 2010, she’s not playing softball, favoring instead theater and dance — as well as making videos with Grace, like the iCarly-inspired piece below.

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And, in case her old hospital would like to know, when Olivia comes over to see Grace, she’s riding her scooter.