Tuesday, June 1, 2010

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.

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