A real-life Scotty Smalls takes the field

A real-life Scotty Smalls takes the field

The question caught me off guard.

Heading into my second season as the coach of a 7-8 Little League Baseball team, I thought I was ready for anything. I watched countless Youtube videos about instructing young baseball players. I also asked for advice from one of my old coaches, Chunky Thatcher, and he told me not to waste my time watching videos.

I thought I had amassed a nice blend of knowledge that would mold my coaching style as I try to teach the kids a few things and instill a deeper love for baseball along the way.

At a practice last week, the players were lined up trying to throw strikes through the strike zone stand I made with PVC pipes. I went into length trying to explain to the boys what the box meant. I told them that it is just like the box they see on the screen during games on ESPN.

Further explanation was needed when I realized that almost none of the kids on my team actually watch baseball.

Then, one boy raised his hand.

“What is a strike?” he asked.

He wasn’t asking the question like a player or coach frustrated with an inconsistent umpire. He asked the question like he was saying “Who is she?” when the boys on The Sandlot were talking about Babe Ruth.

Yes, we have a real-life Scotty Smalls on our team.

“What’s a strike?” I said, repeating a question.

“Yeah,” he said. “What is it?”

Suddenly it was like I was back in Spanish class again because I had no answer, and a simple, “no sé, lo siento” was not going to get me out of the situation like it did in college.

I could tell the kids the ins and outs of the infield fly rule or the suicide squeeze long before I could describe the most basic of terms when it comes to baseball.

Sure, I suppose you could simply say, “A strike is when you swing and miss,” as one of the other boys on the team immediately answered.

But judging by the puzzled look on his face, I knew that he was asking about the deeper meaning of the strike. So what if you swing and miss, what does that mean?

“Three strikes and your out,” I said.

“Yeah,” our modern-day Smalls said. “What’s an out?”

This boy clearly had such a different upbringing over his first eight years than I did that it is almost hard to believe we live in the same country.

I’m sure there was a time when I didn’t know what a strike was, but I honestly can’t remember. Oh, I could never hit one, but I always knew what a strike was.

That’s because I had a sports-minded older brother, and I grew up in a house that put way too much importance on watching sports on TV. The Scotty Smalls on our team clearly is not growing up in the same kind of household.

Words like ball, strike and out were some of the first words I ever spoke, and I never thought I would have to explain either.

I thought, perhaps, this was a parental failure, like with Smalls’ step-dad character Denis Leary stole from Bill Hicks or Louis C.K. But the parents, whom I don’t know, had the boy out for Little League Baseball, so they can’t be that bad.

The dad, however, didn’t go the extra mile to make sure a baseball game took priority like mine did.

Maybe it’s because we no longer have the Butte Copper Kings in town. If we still had a rookie league pro baseball team in town, every boy in town at least would have seen one baseball game.

The Copper Kings were the first exposure to a real baseball game for so many Butte boys and girls from the late 1970s until they left town for good in 2000.

Maybe the boy needs to start playing MLB 16 The Show on his PlayStation, if he has one. That’s how my son learned football.

He refused to watch football with me until he started playing Madden. Now he is constantly asking me about players, past and present. And he keeps telling me about the greatness of Odell Beckham Jr.

Likewise, our Scotty Smalls might start talking about guys like Mike Trout and Bryce Harper if he turned to the PlayStation or Xbox.

Actually, the boy and his parents did the right thing when he signed up for Little League. The best way to learn baseball is to play baseball.

Just look at the original Scotty Smalls. In a matter of weeks, he went from not being able to throw or catch a ball to being a more-than-serviceable outfielder and a pretty good hitter.

Actually, now that I think of it, Scotty Smalls might be one of the most unrealistic characters in the history of movies.

Suddenly he can play baseball at the same level as the other boys who have been playing for years because he closed his eyes and held his glove up while Benny magically put a fly ball in the pocket? No way. Smalls was a project who was at least two years away from being anything but an easy out.

Superman shooting laser beams out of his eyes might be more realistic.

But, the boys needed a ninth player, and Smalls learned the game by playing.

Our team got in six good practices before our first game. In those six hours, our Smalls has almost learned how to throw the ball off the right foot.

The boy has learned how to run the bases, but he’s still got some work when it comes to catching the ball without turning his mitt upside down to scoop the ball like most young players do at first.

This kid is no L-7 weenie. He’s got a strong arm, and he can make decent contact when pitched to. But he doesn’t always break his wrists when he swings.

On our final tune up practice before the first game, we spent a solid hour simulating a game, and our Smalls learned when he is supposed stay on base or run to the next one.

He also stopped a hard grounder at third and stepped on the base. There wasn’t a forced out on that base, but that didn’t matter. You could see it in his eyes that he was starting to get the game that was like a foreign language to him less than two weeks earlier.

More importantly, his dad tells me our Smalls is having a ton of fun and that he really likes playing baseball. And, truly, that is Little League it was all about.

Besides, who cares about strikes anyway?

As we learned from an even better baseball movie, strikeouts are fascist.

— Bill Foley, whose favorite movies are Field of Dreams, Bull Durham, The Bad News Bears (1976 version) and The Sandlot, writes a column that appears on ButteSports.com on Tuesdays. Email him at foley@buttesports.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74. 1 comment

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1 Comment

  • Aaron
    May 3, 2016, 11:47 am

    Boring and fascist…Crash Davis


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