The AA Braves of East County Little League can’t seem to buy a break, but were taught an invaluable lesson last night, as they came from ahead to lose the game. As manager, my decisions probably lead the collapse we saw on the mound and in our defensive play. While I didn’t plan on coaching to lose, results saw the team come up short. Thankfully the coaches supported the decisions that were made and we accepted the outcome. After the boys got their snack they forgot about many of the details until our post game talk in right field.
Never will I single out a ballplayer as the cause for a loss, to do so would be irresponsible on my part. My role as manager is to always be positive and respect each child as an individual while teaching the the fundamentals of the game. At times its been frustrating observing the players “perform” the fundamentals of baseball during a game; bad throws, poor field positioning, dropping the ball, not paying attention. These are common place in little league. As I have stressed from the beginning, you are a part of a team. We win as a team and we lose as a team, each player has a role they play.
My approach to the game has not changed from opening day, I play and rotate the boys based on equal playing time to all players. While some parents and coaches might have an issue with this, it has not been brought to my attention through 8 games. I don’t favor my strong players every inning of every game and by no means do I intentionally play anyone the minimum of 2 innings and 1 at-bat. That screams incompetence of a coach who is just there to win, regardless of the kids.
If the decision was made to stick with our ace pitchers yesterday, chances were great we would have won the game, but would have been short on pitching come Monday. This also left of a run behind at the end of the 5th inning, when the game was called due to time limit resulting in another loss, but just how much does a loss or win really matter in little league? I do however, believe the boys were taught an important lesson during the game.
From the first inning we jumped out to a 5 run lead, the kids were excited, hustling up to the plate, running the bases well and playing good defense. Everything seemed to be going our and way and as more runs crossed the plate, I was continually asked the score. My response stayed consistent the entire game, “I don’t know the score, as it’s not important, hitting and playing defense is important.” The boys were were all smiles as our lead grew over the Red Sox to the point of goofing off in the dugout when we were at bat.
Their focus was lost, the “fun” had resulted in a few strike outs and two outstanding defensive gems from the opposing team that seemed to smack out team back to reality. Our best player hit the hardest ball of the year a line drive, which was snared by the shortstop, he couldn’t have been but 2-3 steps out of the batter’s box as he came back to the dugout in tears. As I made my way to him, I put my arm around him and inquired what was wrong? He believed the shortstop had not caught the ball and he was wrongly called out. Not sure if my words were convincing, but by heart was in the right place. Yet after our talk, with his father standing on the other side of the dugout, he seemed to have a different swagger when he took the field next inning.
The collapse of our team was complete by the 4th inning. By that time I had banned any further eating of sunflower seeds in the dugout and put an end to the grab ass (aka fun) that was going on in the dug out. Complacency had overcome our team and it was showing on the field. We were able to take the leading, but lack of focus and being prepared when the ball was hit led us giving up the lead and eventually losing in the 5th inning when the Red Sox scored their last run after 3 throwing errors on the same play.
In the words of Vincent Fortanasce, M.D., “These children are not professional ballplayers and Little League is not about winning baseball game. Little League is about fun and growth and learning life’s important lessons.” We were taught what happens can happen when we lose focus and get complacent in a game. It was a tough lesson to learn, as the jubilation and excitement on the team was priceless.
As I explained to them in my post game talk, we were pleased with how they played, we hit the ball well, score runs and made some great plays in the field, unfortunately we had made some mistakes. One of the coaches expanded on this asking each player, “What mistake did you make?” It was interesting to see hands go up and hear some of their responses. A few players had no answer, but no one said, “I didn’t do anything wrong.” I continued to stress learning baseball at this age is more important than winning. I highlighted our positives and said we would continue to work on areas which need improvement.
While I feel bad for the boys, who nearly earned their first victory of the season, they continue to grow and make improvements in their game. With continued coaching, drills and positive reinforcement and encouragement the players will continue to improve.