My son made a nice move to quickly shed a blocker and pulled the running back’s flag during a third-grade football game last fall.
The grass was wet, and both boys fell to the ground as the flag was pulled. They landed by a couple other boys who also slipped and hit the deck on the play.
The running back was mad because he didn’t score a touchdown. He stood up and slammed the ball into my son’s face at point-blank range. The ball bounced off his noggin and into the face of one of his teammates, and both boys were hurt.
The referee didn’t see the infraction, but the opposing coach did, and he took the boy out of the game.
It was the same boy who, on multiple occasions, threw a bat when he struck out last Little League season. The boy has also, allegedly, attacked teammates and threatened coaches with a bat.
The same boy, who is 9 years old and in third grade, has been kicked out of his public school. Other kids are afraid of him. So are some teachers and coaches.
As fate would have it, this boy is also one of the new players on the Little League team I coach.
As Butte High football and track coach Arie Grey said, now I’m going to find out what kind of coach I am.
Admittedly, I am ashamed of the fact that I didn’t want the boy on my team at first. None of the coaches did. Like me, they are coaching because they have a son on the team, and they want to keep their life as less complex as possible.
Plus, they don’t want their players afraid of another player on the team. And they don’t want to get hit by a bat.
On the way home from tryouts, I broke the news to my son, who was not thrilled to have the boy who might have given him a mild concussion as a teammate.
“But dad, he hit me in the face with a football,” he said. “He shouldn’t even be allowed to play.”
“Hey,” I replied, “everybody deserves the benefit of the doubt. And we are going to give him that.”
My son agreed.
It was at that moment that I convinced myself I actually wanted to be this boy’s coach.
Actually, when he is not hurting or threatening people, he is a very nice boy. He is the only boy who didn’t play for me in the past who openly lobbied for me to pick him, and he made me laugh.
“You should draft me,” he said as he went through tryout drills for the league’s 9-10 division with about 30 other boys at the middle school gym. “I’m good.”
“Aren’t you the boy who threw the bat last year?” I asked.
He hung his head a little bit and said, “Yeah. That was me.”
“Why did you do that?”
“I have a problem with my temper,” the boy said. “If I can control my temper, I’ll be a good player.”
That is a pretty good sign that the boy is at least trying. And, the first step to correcting a problem is admitting that you have that problem.
A lot of us adults — especially guys like me who scream at the TV when John Farrell makes yet another bonehead move as the Red Sox manager — could learn something from that.
Even though he has a hard time accepting failure, and baseball is a sport where even the best players fail more than they succeed, playing baseball might be the best thing for this boy.
Little League Baseball has been the savior for troubled kids since 1939.
Sometimes, a boy just needs someone who cares and believes in him, and that’s what good coaches do. That is what I will try to do.
I had several great Little League coaches, and they all had one thing in common. They truly cared about every kid on the team.
When I was 10, we had a boy on the team who didn’t have a phone in his house. We didn’t call them “landlines” back then, because landlines were all we had.
This boy’s parents didn’t have a phone at all.
The phone-less boy’s parents wouldn’t, or more likely couldn’t, go to practices or games. So, my coach, who was also my dad, picked him up for every game and practice.
Even though that boy ended up tragically dying in a car wreck when he was in his mid-20s, I’d like to think his Little League coach helped make his life better, even if just a little bit.
I have never looked at my job as a coach of boys that age as being about winning and losing. I try to teach them the basics of baseball (because that is all I know) and to make sure they have fun. If I do my job correctly, they’ll want to sign up and play again next year.
Of course, the job can mean so much more than that.
Looking back, a handful of teachers and my Little League coaches were some of the most influential people in my life. Most former Little League players would probably say the same thing.
When I was 11, my dad couldn’t coach the team because he was working on the road. I’ll never forget how my new coach, Mike Venner, cared enough about me to pick me up and drive me to practices.
It was great having somebody who didn’t have to care about me, care about me. That memory is still so special more than a decade after Mike’s passing.
Hopefully, someday, some players feel that way about me.
As the players were going through another tryout drill, my newest player came up to me one more time, once again making a pitch to play on my team.
“I have a cannon for an arm,” the boys said. “I have wheels, and I can hit.”
You know what, he’s right. The boy is pretty fast, and he throws hard. Plus, he’s a lefty who can pitch. He struck out a lot of my guys last year.
I’m looking forward to him pitching in the city tournament at the end of the season. If he keeps that temper in check, I have no doubt he will get some attention for a much better reason this year.
If all goes according to plan, those other coaches will wish they would have drafted the boy when they had the chance.
Just in case, I’m going to practice dodging bats.
— Bill Foley, who has never been good at dodging anything, writes a column that appears Tuesday on ButteSports.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74.