Every Coach’s Dream, A True Story about Dixie Youth Baseball in Three Small Towns, by Harold A Brown
Chapter 5: League Game Two – Rockvale
Is experience a friend or foe?
Rockvale was a small community south of Nolensville. Their boys were what everyone called corn fed because they were so big. Truth was, they were like every other team, some were small and a few were large.
This would be the Red team’s first meeting of this Rockvale team and their second regular game. Rockvale had beaten the College Grove team earlier in the week. Coach Burns would rather beat them than eat. For some reason those communities were into children’s sports. Their value as people was directly related to wins on the playing field. Coach had witnessed knives being pulled and bottles being thrown because a call or play didn’t go the way someone thought it should.
Whatever the size of the children, Rockvale was a tough community. One of the rare thing, in those day, was to see a woman coaching a boys baseball team. It still is. On one occasion, Coach saw a barefooted female coach at third throw her cigarette down and stomp it out with her bare foot. Coach made a mental note that day to always give her extra space.
Coach was glad to be playing them in Nolensville. Rocket would be the team’s starting pitcher on that Friday night. Their first hitter would send a long fly ball to Teddy, in right field, for the first out. One pitch, one out. What a great start. It was good to see Teddy be successful because with each success his confidence grew.
Their shortstop was hitting second and his second pitch was a line drive to Marty for out number two. The defense was doing its job and Rocket was making the most of his pitches. With the success that Rocket was having, their third batter should have taken some pitches, just to make Rocket workharder. He did not choose to do that and pulled the first pitch down the third base line. Jimmy made an easy catch and threw the ball to first to end the top of the first with out number three.
As usual, Lajuane started the Red team’s inning. The thing that wasn’t routine was seeing him hit the ball back to the pitcher for a throw out back at first. Coach was glad to see him be aggressive at the plate, too many batters are content watching the pitcher and never moving the bat. Coach told the boys that it was simple, “see the ball, hit the ball.” It’s not that simple but it is just that simple. Baseball is such a simple complicated game. How could that be? Well, it just is.
Marty had been hitting everything in sight and this at bat was no exception. The first pitch to him was a double. The team was doing the same thing that Rockvale was doing, only they now had a base runner. Jimmy was not afraid to swing his bat but he refused to swing at a pitch that wasn’t in the strike zone. There had been times in the past when Coach had wanted him to swing at pitches because he was the last batter capable of hitting. Jimmy, on the other hand, refused to see that fact. This team didn’t have that problem and Jimmy took the first pitch for a ball. The second and third pitch were strikes and Jimmy was taking his measure of what the pitcher had. He also gave Marty a chance to take third base on a missed ball by the catcher. Jimmy took the next two pitches for a full count. Jimmy was doing his job at the plate and to prove his ability with his bat, he drove the last pitch through the gap into right field for a double and one run batted in.
Rocket was going to the plate with all the confidence in the world. Rocket went down on three pitches. Failure only made him more determined. Self image is the single most important factor in performance. I don’t know where he got it, but Rocket had a strong self image.
Darrell had taken notes when Jimmy was at bat and made the pitcher work harder after Rocket had given him a break. After three straight balls he drove the fourth pitch into left center field and allowed Jimmy to score. Darrell had the third double of the inning.
Owen took the first pitch, a called strike, and allowed Darrell to take third base. On the second pitch, Owen put the ball over the right fielder’s head for the third run of the inning and a triple for himself. Frank was not an experienced ball player but he certainly made up for it with effort. After four pitches, Frank accounted for the third out. Frank and his cousin, boys with different abilities and goals, had recorded two strike outs in the bottom of the first.
The top of the second would present Rocket with Rockvale’s best hitter. He was Coach Burns’ son Chris. He was a strong kid with an attitude like his father. Coach Burns and the Nolensville Red team were on friendly terms and they both liked beating College Grove. Coach Bennett, the coach for College Grove, had been beating them for years. They always thought it was because he had better kids and that may have been true, but not always.
Chris Burns made Rocket work for the first time this game. With the count three and two, he put the fifth pitch in the gap between right and center field. He was not fast enough to turn the sure single into a double and had the intelligence to recognize the fact. The fifth batter in their order was also their best pitcher, Jimmy McCrary. He was a young player with a strong arm and a good glove. His parents were proud of his ability. Rocket struck him out in six pitches. He got the next batter in five pitches.
With two strikeouts in the inning, Rocket took a mental vacation. The bottom of Rockvale’s batting order was weakand the next two batter didn’t hit the ball but Rocket didn’t thrown strikes when he should have. He had gotten himself and his team in trouble. As everyone knows, there is no defense for walking a batter. Bases were loaded with two outs. Their number nine batter was up and probably had orders not to swing at any pitch. The first pitch was down the middle for a called strike one. Owen was giving his pitcher a good target and no reason for the slow Chris Burns, on third, to think that he would be able to steal home. Pitch two was exactly like the first and got the same results from the umpire. Not being sure about the batter’s ability, Rocket put the third pitch just off the edge of the plate for ball one.
The Rockvale parents were encouraging their batter with cheers of, “good eye.” Everyone knows that means don’t swing that bat, let the pitcher walk you. Rocket was having none of that and his next pitch was a hard one down the middle for a called strike that retired the team. Rocket returned to the dugout with that signature smile his team loved and the other team envied.
The bottom of the second would send Alex up first. He had an independent mind. That is good in some cases but from a team perspective it doesn’t always work. Alex and Coach would have a battle of wills if his attitude didn’t correct itself. Alex could hit the ball, but he didn’t always see it. He drew a walk with ball four after a full count. Teddy was the last batter in the order but was by no means the weakest hitter on the team. In fact he had a batting adverage of 500 so far in this young season. On the first pitch to Teddy, Alex stole second base. Two pitches later he moved to third. Alex was causing the pitcher some problems. He walked Teddy on seven pitches.
The batting order was back to the top. Lajuane was looking for a hit. The first pitch was put into play between thefirst and second basemen. Lajuane brought Alex home and moved Teddy to second. Marty was on a streak. His second double of the game scored Teddy and Lajuane. Marty stole third on Jimmy McCrary’s fourth pitch and Jimmy walked on the fifth. Rockvale change pitchers. Chris Burns was trying to save some of Rockvale’s pride. After the change, Rocket scored Marty with a single. While Darrell was in the process of getting four straight balls, Rocket stole second and third. Owen also received four straight balls while Darrell took second.
The bases were loaded for Frank. For the second time in a row Frank struck out. Alex walked again and scored Rocket. Teddy struck out on five pitches for the teams second out. Lajuane reached the plate for the second time during the inning and drew a walk that scored Darrell.
What a difficult situation to place your pitcher in, bases loaded with the other teams best hitter coming to the plate. Marty had already hit two doubles and was his teams best hitter for average. Marty was patient. Chris was having trouble throwing strikes but Marty didn’t want to walk. On a two and two count Marty improved on his two doubles for the night with a triple and his fifth RBI for the game. Jimmy wanted to pick up another run batted in but hit the ball at the first baseman for the final out of the second inning. The Red team was leading thirteen to zero.
The top of the third found Rockvale back at the top of their batting order. Rocket had been sitting to long and sent the first batter to first on four pitches. Rocket knew that he would have to work harder. He made the second batter hit into a fielder’s choice. Marty threw to Lajuane for the out at second. With the third batter the team made a rare error and Rockvale had two runners on. Rocket pitched carefully to Chris Burns and walked him, loading the bases. The next two batters made Rocket pitch to a full count and both struck out. Failure is the first step on the way to success.
Rocket led off the bottom of the third with a single. Darrell moved the runner to second on a fielder’s choice to the second baseman with an assist to first. Rocket stole third on the second pitch to Owen. After the steal, Owen sacrificed the runner home for the second out. Brad had replaced Frank and was making his first appearance at the plate. He hit a hard grounder back to the pitcher who got an assist at first for the third out.
The top of the fourth sent the team on defense with confidence. Everyone was doing their job. Rocket got the first batter on three pitches and the second batter walked on four. Glory is not gained without difficulty. The next batter also walked. The top of the order was back up and he had hit the ball both times at bat. He did it again. Lajuane charged the ground ball and found Jimmy at third for the second out. He in turn found Marty at second for the third out and the first double play of the game.
Rocket’s strikes-to-balls ratio could have been better but he worked hard when he was in trouble and the players behind him made the plays when it counted. Taking action is more important than giving notice.
The youngest player on the team was Derek. Alex didn’t like it but Derek was taking his place at the plate. He rewarded the coach’s decision with a strike out. Teddy hit a low shot to center field for a single but tried unsuccessful for a double. When he reached the bag the ball was there waiting on him for out number two. Lajuane walked and stole second as Marty was being pitched around. While Jimmy was looking for another hit, the two base runners stole another base. With second and third occupied, Jimmy recorded his first strike out of the game.To Rockvale’s credit, they were not through. They did not want to quit. Their first batter walked.
“Come on Rocket,” or something on that order is probably what Coach was thinking. The next batter gave the defense a chance to take charge of the game, or so it seemed. Rocket got ahead of himself and served Chris Burns a nice juicy pitch that he put over the fence. The next batter grounded out to the first baseman.
The two batters at the bottom part of the batting order both walked after Rocket pitched to a full count.
With any age group a coach is almost never secure with whatever lead his team has. Have confidence in your players because fear can make the wolf larger.
Heads, tails, same coin. How could a pitcher be so erratic and still throw three strikes in a row? The important thing is that he did and that stopped the inning with Rockvale scoring two runs.
Because these games have a time limit, all we had to do was keep batters going to the plate. Rocket led off with a triple. Darrell walked and stole second while Owen was at the plate. After drawing a walk on four pitches and loading the bases, the umpire called the game on time.
The defense played well. In fact, Coach had every confidence in what they could do.
Will experience be our friend or our foe?
Coach believed that this group of boys would get better as they learned to depend and trust each other. Time would tell.
Rockvale 2, Nolensville Red 14.