Monday, September 6, 2010

Getting ready for Vegas

We leave on Thursday for the Vegas tournament again. This time with Mizuno. We played it with Blue Wave last year, and looking back I fear that was the beginning of the end. I am not subtle, or quiet, or meek so I tend to create communication where none exists. We had very limited communication at Blue Wave, and occasionally too much with Mizuno. I really believe that Mizuno has a chance to make a good showing this year. 41 teams entered, I expect something between 12th and 25th. Last year they came in second in D2, so approximately 14th overall. Blue Wave finished in the mid 30s.

Rabbit is throwing quite well lately, and his pitching coach has paid some major dividends. We will certainly miss Paul next season, but I expect some major league franchise will need him more than we do. Rabbit is introducing a cutter (slider, really, but don't tell him that) and can throw it up to 4 times in a game. After that he is supposed to shake off the catcher. It will be interesting to see how he rolls with it as the game progresses.

We are bringing in two "mercenary" players for this tourney. These are boys who are not part of the regular roster, but play with us some times in the bigger tournaments. I have no problem with this and like the kids. It is kind of funny though to think of having a mercenary in a 12U setting. In fact, since we are facing a very limited tournament schedule next year Rabbit may very well be a mercenary for some local teams. Our family rule is we will play if he is the 9th or 10th boy on the roster, only if his being there makes the difference in being able to play or not. We really want to avoid a scenario where the merc comes in and takes a spot from a team member. With the two mercs, Mizuno will have 10 boys (one of whom is 9yo) in Vegas.

Spent Labor Day Weekend at youth baseball tournaments and team parties, but did not play. Instead it was a weekend to catch up with friends and watch some games with no pressure. It is gratifying to see people genuinely enthused to see Rabbit. He is a good kid and would have these friends if they met at baseball, football, the library or knitting class. It is energizing to see good kids, invariably from good families, after reading the news and hearing all the gloom and doom the future holds. I say relax, go watch them play a game or two, you will feel better also.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Good losses

After the San Diego tournament we had a week off before we hosted a two day tournament as a fundraiser. These fundraisers help us keep the costs low so that the boys can go on the overnight trips as well as get all the nice gear they have. It requires a bit of extra work by the parents, mostly grounds keeping and snack bar, but the end result is very much worth it. The reason we took the week off is because everyone on the team was sick. Fevers, coughs, aches, you name it, they had it. The play as a team, they get sick as a team.

We had invited an old friend from Blue Wave to come play with us for a weekend and luckily the schedule worked out that he was able to join in the fun. Well, Saturday was not much fun. Two ugly losses plagued by mental errors. There are plenty of excuses to fall back on, yet this was distressing. Rabbit played CF in game two, at my request, and looked like it was his first day on a diamond. Brutal! Missing pop ups, throwing to the wrong base, not backing players up. It was frustrating, but he needs to learn these positions. If he is truly destined to only ever play 1B he needs to be a significantly better hitter.

He pitched fine, but erratically. He hit 3 batters, and all three came around to score. The team lost by three. Yuck. To be fair, it was a team effort, yet giving the other team 6 baserunners (3 hbp, 3 walks) in two innings puts extra pressure on everyone. A lousy day that ended with a bad call going against us that cost us the opportunity to get one more at bat. When you are losing, you can't help but collect bad calls like candy wrappers.

Sunday morning we played wayyyyy to early. 7am call time for an 8am game. We got up at 6, got ready and were there, ready to help, at 7. We had 7 players there 15 minutes prior to game time. I was starting to panic. Our last two players showed up and we could already see the father/son tension before they got to the dugout. This was not going to end well.

The game was great. Several lead changes, great defense (now that everyone was playing in their spots) and some timely hitting made this very close. The same team that had beat us via mercy, 12-4 the day before, was scratching and clinging to a one run lead. In the end, we lost 6-5. At one point in the game a ball lodged in the backstop. Since the bases were loaded it cost us a run. We then got out of a bases loaded, no outs situation, but a ball that lodged in the backstop was the deciding run. When you are losing games, those are the things that happen. The game was much better, and more enjoyable to watch. Rabbit twice had RBIs by hitting hard grounders to the right side. His hitting is improved dramatically. He had a good day on Sunday, and lots to be proud of.

My concern lies now with the coaching relationships. I will stay out of a relationship between a parent and a child unless I see something that truly concerns me. This weekend concerned me. One parent asked Rabbit to go out in the field and instruct his son to "play better and shape up." It is not my sons responsibility to get in the middle of this situation. I am speaking with the organization about this and while this is not a dealbreaker, it has the potential to end up that way. Our friend who came to play with us said that he would not join the team so long as that particular parent was in the dugout. It is no longer a family concern, it is now effecting the entire team.

It is very easy to pass judgement, and I try to remain reasonable and keep my nose clean. However, there are less than 5,000 people in this world that make their livelihood playing baseball. These boys are 9-12 years old. Nobody does it right every time, not even in the pros. I just hope that Rabbit does not feel anywhere near that pressure coming from us.

Monday, August 2, 2010

So what did I miss?

In a word, nada. We took our annual baseball trip (Louisville KY, Cincinnati OH, Indianapolis IN) and it was amazing. If you want to see pictures they are up on Facebook. I can highly recommend the Louisville Slugger Factory and Museum, it is very cool. Rabbit has been at Grandma Camp and Hanford Camp as well. In fact, he had not played a competitive game in over 7 weeks. We had been to one practice in a month! What interesting timing as we head into the USTSA World Series in San Diego. Oh, one more thing, the tournament started on Wednesday the 28th, his twelfth birthday.

The boys looked sluggish in game one. We had two new players on the roster but they had subbed in before. No fire, no drive, no personality. The team languished to a 13-8 loss. Little did I know this would be the best game we would play all week. Rabbit went 1-2 with a ground rule double and 2 RBI. Great hit, got all of it. Thursday we played two, and scored a total of five runs while allowing 23. Rabbit pitched poorly, including 6 WP with a runner on 3rd. It was frustrating, and got to be embarrassing. Between games I talked with him and said that I will excuse lack of execution or ability, but not lack of effort. The kids mailed it in. Game two was much better, but still a mercy loss.

We stayed down with the team on Thursday night and got ready for a 9am game on Friday. Another blowout loss. No energy at all. This was bad. The boys were not hitting, but if the had, I am convinced they would not have run out the ball anyways. Lazy defense made the pitchers work too hard. It is amazing to think that this was the same team from Arizona, or even Memorial Day, that was winning tournaments and playing such great ball. Oh well, we were now in the bottom bracket of course, and elimination games started Saturday afternoon.

Friday night we went back home so Rabbit could act as the batboy for the Flyers. It was fun for him, and the Flyers won with an extra inning walk-off double. A real treat after watching the games I had seen so far that week. We checked the standings and saw that Mizuno was the 28th seed, out of 30. A miserable showing to be sure. Blue Wave was 27. Enough said.

Saturday was, predictable, more of the same. The never flipped the switch. Scored a single run. One. Uno. Not many positives to take away from that weekend. I guessed wrong, and said they would lose 9-2. It was 9-1. We stayed after to watch the Blue Wave game. The fell as well, and both teams left after the five games.

After the games we went out with some friends from Blue Wave and Coach Louis. It was the highlight of the weekend for me. A great time chatting and laughing. Lots to discuss and compare notes about. I was reminded that the people are as much of the experience as the play. After our gathering we went back to the team hotel and Rabbit and the rest of his team swam until they could no longer stay awake. We got up early on Sunday and went home by way of an old favorite restaurant. A good ending to a lousy weekend.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Of Sunday ... and Monday

Well, things could not have gone more differently.

Sunday we were scheduled to play at 10am. We were playing two Majors teams on the day and would be challenged the whole way. As with the day before, we were always on adjacent fields to Blue Wave. It was great to see some old friends and reconnect with Coach Louis. Blue Wave was having a rough go of it, playing with a mixed 10/11 roster. In fact, on Sunday the did not score a run or manage a hit in two games. It was frustrating to see good kids and families hang their heads like that.

Our day was not any better. At 9:55 we found out one of our substitute players was not coming. Simply refused to show. No warning, no notice. We had 8 boys, and panic. We had to change positions, change pitching rotations, take an out anytime the 9th hitter was due up. The boys collapsed in game 1 from all the confusion and just plain gave up. 15-0 loss with a few mitts being thrown and pop ups not being run out. I talked to Rabbit between games and asked him how he felt, as a fielder, seeing his teammates act out like that. It really reinforced to him how the team feeds on the energy of its players. Between games he went to his teammates, got everyone smiling, even apologized to the RF from the day before for making him believe that Rabbit was angry with him.

The second game was still lopsided, but a huge improvement. 11-1, but we twice got a 1-2-3 inning, even with 8 defenders! A few hits, but two rallies killed by the automatic out. No worries at all, and a decidedly more upbeat team at the end of that game. The boys could have easily thrown away their tournament at that point. They were 0-3 with two losses by ten or more runs. We had 8 players only and no idea if we would be able to field a full team for Monday. And yet, there they were, laughing, talking it up, and having a good time. It was very satisfying.

We managed to find two players to join us on Monday, meaning we would have 10. A real luxury for Mizuno! I honestly could not remember the last team we had more than 9.

As the fates would have it, we faced Blue Wave in an elimination game first thing Monday morning. We were the 16 seed out of 18 and Blue Wave was 18th. With 9 players (10 actually) we were significantly better than our 16 seed allowed. We knew this was a game we should win easily, and we did. We scored 8 runs before the first out was recorded and ten in the first inning. The game ended at 10-0 and we were on to the semi-finals of our bracket. The team we faced in the semis had beaten Blue Wave 9-1 so we figured it to be a close game. It was a great game. Back and forth, incredible defense, some timely hits and a few key strikeouts led us to a 4-2 victory. Both of our fill in for the other fill in players made huge contributions. A great win and we were headed to the bracket championship!

The championship game was a very tense affair with a few lead changes, 3 ties, and came down to the very last out. We came up one run short 5-4. We had made a few errors at the end allowing a few runs, but they were errors from new players or existing players trying to make heroic plays. As the coach said after the game "I want to see those plays, and errors now so that when we play the games that matter we get it right." We left the park satisfied after a great day of baseball. We went from 0-3 to the finals, won consecutive elimination games, and played two amazing ball games back to back.

Rabbit really improved over the course of the weekend. His demeanor was incredible, and the team as a whole went away proud of the weekend, but sad they lost. And they still laughed all the way home about it. His hitting has really come along nicely, including 3-6 on Monday with an RBI. In fact, I can say for the first time in a long time he has a 3 game hitting streak!

Ready for a week or two off, then back to the grind.

Playing well between the ears

A three day tournament over the Memorial Day Weekend culminated a three tourneys in three weeks trifecta. The boys were excited, and I was thrilled that our first game was not until 3pm on Saturday! I liked where this was headed.

We have had an amazing run of injuries in the last month. Two boys have broken ankles/feet and another broke an elbow. With only 9 on our roster, and one of those the younger brother of an 11U, we were in rough shape. We were able to locate enough additional players to field exactly 9 for the weekend. That is scary, because if anyone cannot/does not play you will be at an incredible disadvantage.

Saturday's game was against Phenom. They are team from the desert area who likes to poach players from other organizations. The also seem to have 19 coaches, matching sweatsuits and a theme song. If you saw the remake of Bad News Bears, they are all Greg Kinnear. The boys are very good players to be sure, but their coaches are jerks. We have played them a few times and done OK with Mizuno, and been absolutely thrashed by them when we were with Blue Wave. Since September of 2009 in tournament play Phenom had scored 110+ runs while allowing only 2.

In the third inning of our game Saturday, we were ahead 5-3. Rabbit had the ball and was pitching well. The simply could not hit him squarely. Lots of pop ups and grounders. In the fourth we made a few errors and the game started to turn. With 3 fill in players we had some boys playing out of position. No worries. At one point, after an outfield error that led to two more unearned runs Rabbit kicked the dirt in front of the mound in disgust. I was not pleased. There is no need to call out your teammates. It was non-verbal, but he sent a very clear message that he was not happy. Later in the inning the Phenom coaches bullied an extra base on an overthrow call because a ball hit a bucket that the coaches had placed on the field. Very bizarre. Once they saw that Rabbit was rattled they started calling time in the box, once while he was in his windup. I was stunned that the ump allowed that. Rabbit lost his composure, and we went down to an 8-5 loss. 4IP, 1ER. Against a bona fide majors team, and the kid was furious. In fact, after he made the last out at the plate he came in and threw his equipment down. I called him over immediately and told him that was unacceptable. He knew it was going to be a long ride home and we had lots to talk about.

After he was packed up I asked him if he knew why I was upset. He said that he knew I had seen him throw his equipment and also that he had kicked the mound. We talked at length about his frustration. He never meant to blame anyone for anything. Instead, he was mad at himself for missing his spots and letting the inning get away from him. I asked him what he thought the RF must think seeing him throw a tantrum after an error. It was then that it clicked for him. The RF thought he was mad at his error rather than himself. He saw that as the pitcher he set the tone for the team. When he lost composure the team followed him. We then addressed the equipment issue. It is never OK to slam helmets or throw bats. The helmet is not responsible for him being struck out. Be mad, be upset, be aggressive, but do not be a prima donna or crybaby.

We spent 15 minutes in the parking lot, ranging from near tears on his part to riotous laugher. He knew that like it or not, he was becoming a leader on the team. He needed to carry himself better and understand the effect he has on the psyche of the team. The bottom line is that he is 11, he got hot, and temporarily lost control. It is not the first time, and it will not be the last. But I do want him thinking about how his demeanor can positively or negatively impact everyone. As we were pulling in to home I got a call from the coach. He knew I was unhappy with Rabbit, but did not know why. Coach wanted to know the situation so that he could support our process. We briefly discussed what happened, laughed a bunch about it, and looked forward to the next day.

On a side note, I let Rabbit know, in no uncertain terms, that the next time someone calls time while you are in the wind up the very next pitch goes into their ribs. The coach agreed, I like these guys.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Mea Culpa ... I have been remiss.

Day 3 in Arizona was poetry. One of the best baseball games I have ever seen, regardless of age/level/profession. We ended up facing the number one overall seed who had yet be scored upon. Long story short, it was tense, close and exciting. We did score, we held them and in the end lost 3-1. The opponent then went on to capture the entire tournament winning in the final game by five. We scared them, and played great. It was amazing tournament for the growth of the boys as a team. A great time and Rabbit is really starting to fit in with this club.

No good excuse as to why I have taken a few months off. Well, I have good excuses, but none that matter. I will try to get caught up.

Hitting -
Since the 4-4 game with the HR Rabbit went 0-28 before finally snapping out of it this past weekend. His swing was broken down to zero and is slowly coming back together. He is making some very loud outs and getting RBIs even when not getting on safely. This is a huge improvement over his 0-10 with 8 Ks (7 looking) he had a few weeks ago.

Fielding -
Constant improvement, and gaining confidence. He is playing smart and not putting himself in tough situations. This past weekend (2nd place in a local tournament) he made 3 double plays by making throws to bases after recording the out at first. He is really starting to see the entire field and make good decisions. We will be working on short hops in the coming weeks and also foot placement at the bag. He remains a good fielder and is now working on the little things that make the difference.

Pitching -
One word. Wow. He is dominating right now. His last four outings have been against majors teams and he is throwing well. Averaging just under 2 Ks per inning and less than one run every two innings. Hits are down, walks are down, baserunners are down. He believed Paul Abbott when Paul told him he was a power pitcher. We will be introducing a cutter in the coming weeks. No more than 10 a week, and nothing off a mound for at least three months. Fun stuff.

The Team -
I love the team and the coaching philosophy. They are not bothered with being the best 11 yo team in Southern California, but rather on building the skills needed for high school ball and later. This has been a good decision.

I will go into the drama of new and old teams later, or maybe not. The bottom line is, for right now, Rabbit is playing well and having fun. Last time I checked that was the whole idea.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Spring Training - 2/3 "The Boom Stick"

Our first game on Friday was against a team from Albuquerque, NM. In chatting with a parent from their team I heard that they were 0-3 on the week so far and felt like they were not playing well. They came out strong in the first and pushed a run across. In our half of the first we got four hits. It was great to see the hitting carry over from yesterday. Sadly, between baserunning blunders and other frustrations, 4 hits and 7 batters produced only one run. Rabbit was due to lead off the second, batting eighth.

First pitch he saw was a ball, barely high. I would have called a strike, but it was not my decision. The next pitch was a strike. Rabbit was given the sign "Dead Red" meaning swing hard through the zone, regardless of location. The pitch was very low, and he missed the ball by a mile. Two next pitches were balls and he was 3-1. Dead Red again, and it was. Fastball, belt high, inner half. Gone. It jumped off the bat. First thing I saw was the CF number, then the fence, then the base ump circling his fingers. Over the fence for a home run! His first time ever hitting out of a park. The ball hit a light pole in the RF power alley and bounced back in. The other team threw it in, but by then he was already making his way around the bases to be mobbed at the plate. Simply amazing. What a way to break out of a slump!

The plate ump gave him the ball and I cannot recall ever seeing him smile like that. I was jumping around like an idiot, disbelieving what I just saw. I called his mom, grandparents, Blue Wave friends, everyone I could think of. It was stunning.

Next time up, brimming with confidence, he ripped a double down the RF line, fair by 3 feet. He was seeing the ball great today, and had 6 bases in 2 AB to prove it. Third time up he had a 2 RBI single. That was in the last inning, and with one out we figured he was done for the game. 3 hits, 3RBI, 2 runs, amazing. However, the team batted around that inning, and he stepped up needing a triple for the cycle. Bases loaded, major Hollywood drama time. Rather than a cycle he had to merely settle for another 2 run single. His line for the game went 4 3 4 5. An unreal accomplishment. The game ended with a comfortable win for Mizuno.

For game 2 the coach reversed the order, 9 hitter leading off, 8 hitting second, etc. Rabbit, previously hitting 8th, was the second batter. As he walked up to the plate the opposing catcher calls out "power hitter, move back!" Hilarious. He stung a ball to first that almost snuck through, but a good play got him out. Second AB was a pop up to right center field. He had just missed it. The game was moving along, and the boys were not that interested it seemed. Rabbit had started, and was very mediocre. He looked like he had not pitched in months. He was aiming the ball and nibbling, not throwing like the power pitcher he needs to be.

We were down 5 or 6 late in the game when Rabbit got his final AB. With runners on second and third he stroked one down the RF line. The 1B had him played perfectly, back on the grass and shaded to the line. It still nearly took his glove off. The bat was working, it had been a very good day.

We went back to the hotel for swimming pools and pizza parties. We would have to wait until almost 11pm to find out our seeding and opponent for the next day. Regardless, the boys had played well, occasionally great, had hit well all day, and were ready for all comers.