Thursday, July 25, 2013

Winning for Losing

Sometimes it's just inevitable.

Sometimes you just can't win for losing.

But, then again, sometimes the line between winning and losing is blurred.

Last night, my little Gold '99 fastpitch team was in the semi-final game to see who would go one to play in the championship game. It was a very close battle.

We were in the top of the final inning, and down by only two with one out and knowing that if we could hold them to a couple of runs, we could come back and win it in our final at bat.

The first out was made at first base, the player picking up a ground ball down first base line and the runner beaten to the bag.

But then with only a runner on second, their team hit a hard ground ball to our third baseman who looked up and saw the runner on second heading to third.

So she ran to third base and touched the bag first.

But she didn't tag the runner.

I know this because I was chatting with the other team's third base coach and was standing only a couple feet away, watching intently.

"OUT" screamed the umpire – all of fifteen years old – from left field.

There was no way he saw the play.

"She didn't tag her" screamed the fans from the opposing team's bleachers.

They were right.

With my scorebook in hand, I trotted out to left field. And I explained to the umpire that this was not a force play at third.

"But she tagged her", he said – while the fans of the other team were screaming the same thing at the fifteen year old Umpire.

"No she didn't. She didn't even make the attempt to tag her".

That was my fault. I didn't teach my young third-baseman well enough.

I waved to the other team to bring the runner back to third.

That runner scored on the next play when we achieved another out at first on the next batter.

That would have been three outs right there.

And the rest of the inning was a comedy of errors by my infield.

Balls thrown over the first basemen's head, dropped catches on pop-ups. And a dropped ball at first.

My closing pitcher, who I adore as a person – who always gets the job done – then had a hard time finding the strike zone. After eight runs I switched pitchers – even though this admirable young girl had done so such a great job to that point. As I pointed to my little centerfielder to replace her on the mound, my admirable young closer's face started to crumble under the emotion.

And my heart sunk into my stomach for doing that to her.

My next little pitcher came out to warm up – while my admirable young closer walked out to center field. The whole team except for the catcher went out to centerfield with her. And while my next little pitcher threw her practice pitches – the rest of my team consoled my admirable young closer – apologizing for their mistakes – and telling her how great she was – and telling her jokes until she finally laughed.

My next little pitcher struck their batter out with three pitches to finally end the inning.

And we couldn't make up the ten run deficit in our final at bat.

In the huddle after the game where the girls sit on the grass in left field while I stand and talk about the game, I explained to the team what happened at third base. And why I called back the other base runner to third and gave the other team back the second out.

"We don't want to win that way, do we?" I asked.

The girls all said nothing. But they all shook their heads no in agreement.

"You don't want to hear all your friends from the other team tell you we won by cheating or by a really bad call by the umpire, do you?"

"No way coach!" replied my sturdy catcher who is the oldest on the team, a fantastic leader on the squad and top in her class at school.

And the others all chimed in as well muttering "Nope" and "Uh. Uh".

"And we still won the regular season, right?" I continued. "We know in our hearts we are the best team, right?"

"Right", the all replied.

"Sometimes girls you just have to do what's right, even though it's not in favor", I said. "And that, I really believe was the right thing to do".

I doubt the other team really thought much about the out we gave back.

And I doubt very much that our sense of right and fair play will go down in Turtle Club lore – in fact the other coaches would likely think me nuts for not taking advantage of a really bad call by the Umpire in left field.

But all the girls on my little Gold '99 team will remember it. And as the pain of losing washes away as it always does quickly with kids, I think as they grow up, they will remember that call, and that decision, and be proud.

And I think they already feel like winners.

Even though we lost the game, we won.

Perhaps sometimes you can win for losing.

Because sometimes the line between winning and losing gets blurred.

But I sure will miss my little team of Gold '99s.

Monday, July 01, 2013

My Turtle Club Gold ‘99s

It's July 1st – Canada Day to us Canukians.

A cool morning with the sun hidden above a thick layer of cloud that is spitting fine droplets of rain as my faithful black lab Suzy and I sit on the back deck this morning.

The hot summers of years before do not seem to be the plan so far this year. Instead today it feels more like May.

I am pouring over the spreadsheet that is my roster and line up for my Turtle Club house league fast pitch softball team of twelve girls aged from ten to fourteen years old. I'm looking over the combinations of our players for innings one through five, who works best with whom in which of the nine available positions, and the order they will bat in.

You might think that having a team of girls with such a broad age range is too much. That the older girls play too hard – to fast – for the younger ones. I know I did when this season started.

But I was wrong. Dead wrong.

The older girls, at least on my team, are all mentors to their younger team mates. And the younger girls have learned so much more this season than they would have simply by playing against teams exactly their age.

The younger girls' skills have risen so much faster. And the older girls still continue to improve.

The older girls, almost young women about to enter high school either this year or the next have all been fantastic role models.

I am so proud of each and every one of them that I cannot tell you in words.

My best pitchers come from both the older and younger girls alike. And the older girls give the younger ones tips and tricks.

And while our little league has only four teams in total, the talent appears to be pretty evenly spread across the pool the players. And we still play under the rules that all girls must bat in a game, and all girls must play both infield and outfield in a game – and all girls must get a chance at pitching – a very hard skill indeed to hurl a yellow eleven inch leather sphere bound in red threading with a cork center as fast as they can underhanded consistently in a strike zone that changes as the size of the girls change.

But all my girls are up for the challenge – eager for their next opportunity to stand at the center of the diamond and do their best to throw strikes across the plate thirty five feet away.

It's so much fun to be a part of a team that is stepping up to each challenge as well as my little team has done. We are turning double plays, and making the throws from third to first to get the fastest of base runners.

Our team is in first place so far with a third of the season left to play. And I do admit that while the premise of house league play is to be fun, with winning being a secondary, perhaps a tertiary thought to skill improvement and a love for the game, I always tell my girls that while winning isn't everything, it is funner than losing.

They seem to like that mindset.

And when we do lose, they do not like it.

We live in a very competitive world, shrinking day by day as our technologies make our experience on this planet one of a global community. It's not a place where an indifference to winning will help you succeed.

There are no participation trophies given in life. You have to get them and earn them. There are no rewards for simply showing up. And that is what sports can teach our children, if we use the metaphor correctly. Honor and integrity and fair play and justice must all be equal key ingredients for this magic potion to really teach our kids the lessons they so desperately need to learn.

No video game console invented yet can replace sports for teaching our kids true competitive drive. And no game where there are no losers and there are no winners – can help our kids evolve into the kind of kids that help keep our community, our society strong. But it has to be an equal mix of all.

There is no social network they can belong to online – chatting to the world that is more influential than that of a ball diamond dugout – when the team is down by four runs and you need a rally – and the cheers the girls sing together for their team mate at the plate gets louder … and more inspiration.

And you have to learn how to take the unfair with a smile that only makes you try harder the next time. You can't blame the umpire because they made a bad call. You can't say the other team got lucky on a fantastic catch.

I guess that's what I love about all these girls the most. They already seem to know this. And they all want to strive to be better. They are not looking for handouts, or easy solutions. Instead each time they step up to the plate – they want to drive that ball into the center field gap for a double or a triple or even a home run. Each time that ball is hit to them, they don't step out of the way in fear, hoping someone else behind them will make the play. No, instead they charge the ball and take ownership of the opportunity to get the out. And if they bobble it, they fight harder to get it back and still attempt the play.

They don't give up.

And when they step up to the challenge, our whole team is on their feet to congratulate them – to make them feel as special as they deserve to feel at that moment. And then that moment is over and the next challenge is faced.

And when they make a mistake – or they don't do as well as they think they could do, there is no blame chided by their team mates. Instead the whole team is there to tell them …
"it's alright, it's okay we still love you anyway!"

I think that's my favorite cheer of them all.

There is not a kid on this team that I am not incredibly proud of. And while I and my two fantastic coaches might have taught them just a little teeny bit about playing softball, they in return teach me so much more.

Our little Gold '99 team is a fantastic group to be a part of this year. And I am so happy that I and my youngest daughter Ashley-Rae – only ten herself – have had the opportunity to share this experience with them together.

"Hey one-zero, come be my hero, and hit the ball, over the wall"
"Seven seven, hit it up to heaven"

I love those sing-song cheers.

And to all the parents of these exceptional young ladies I have the privilege to manage, I sincerely want to thank each and every one of you for the outstanding job you have done so far.

Because I'm here to tell you it's not easy raising kids today.

But I think these girls are all the cream of the crop.

I can hardly wait for our game tonight against that dastardly Red team. To watch these girls go out there and try their best. And while I hope we win, I know there is a another great lesson out there just waiting to be learned.

What a great way to spend a July First Canada Day.

I just hope it doesn't rain.

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