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The Good Old Days — Swing the bat! PDF Print E-mail
Friday, June 13, 2014 8:00 PM

Being a Little League baseball coach is something I really enjoyed. It’s been more than three decades since I coached 8-to-10-year-old boys but I still remember the fun of teaching the boys the game of baseball and the challenges of trying to help the less talented ones. Each year I was blessed to have several players who could hit, run, field, throw and knew the basics of baseball. Each year I also had a few boys who did not even know how to hold the bat properly much less the rules of the game. We only had a couple of practices before we actually started playing games so there wasn’t much time to work with the kids, much less help those who didn’t seem to have much natural talent for the game.

One of the best players on my team was my son, John. He and his big brother, Mike, (who played in the older boys league) were both “All Star” players. John would play wherever I asked him to. As an 8-year-old, John was one of the smallest players on my team. He played second base most of the time and also got experience as a pitcher and catcher. He pitched a complete game and was the winning pitcher in his first try at the position. Looking back, I realize how nervous he must have been about pitching for the first time. I can still remember him standing on the pitcher’s mound, taking a lot of deep breaths and looking kind of worried about letting down his team and his dad but he did great!

One of my fun memories was the first time I had John put on the catcher’s equipment and play that position. The catcher’s equipment was too big for him but he was doing a good job when the home-base umpire called “time out.” The umpire motioned for me to come toward home plate so I walked over to see what he wanted. He was smiling and told me that I needed to help John “adjust his equipment.” We were both laughing when he pointed out to me that John’s protective cup had slid down his right leg. I helped make the adjustment and although John was probably a little embarrassed, the game resumed.

John EatonIn 1982, I was the coach and sponsor of our team, Dan Eaton Photo. John was our shortstop and one of several really good players on our team. We won most of our games but my goal was for the boys to have fun, let everyone get to play, and try to win the game.

Eric McClung was kind of a “Huckleberry Finn” looking kid. I don’t remember ever meeting his parents but someone dropped him off for the games and picked him up afterwards. Eric was a lefty and one of the boys who had the potential to be pretty good but there was one big problem – he was afraid of the baseball! He played right field for us; remember everyone got to play. When the ball was hit toward him, instead of trying to catch it or stop it, he would jump out of the way and then run beside it or after it until it stopped rolling. Then he’d pick it up and try to throw it back in the direction of the infield. Sometimes he’d forget there was a game going on and I’d see him sitting down in the outfield picking dandelions or perhaps looking for a four-leaf clover. I’d yell at him, “Eric, get your head back in the game. We need you to pay attention to what’s going on.”

 

 

When I pitched to him in batting practice he could hit the ball. I guess he trusted that I wasn’t going to hit him with the baseball. But when he was at bat in the game his fear would take over. As the ball came toward home plate, Eric would get “happy feet” and start dancing backwards. He always ended up walking or striking out no matter how much I encouraged him to not be afraid, to hang in there and swing the bat.

It was the last game of the year and Eric was the only player on the team who had never got a base hit. Before it was his turn to bat, I gave him the best coaching encouragement I could think of. I reminded him that I didn’t care if he struck out, but to please swing the bat and try to hit the ball. If he wanted to move his hit feet while the pitch was coming to the plate just move them up and down; not backwards out of the batting box.

Eric stepped up to the plate. “Swing the bat, Eric,” I yelled. “Come on, Eric. You can do it. Swing the bat!” As the pitcher completed his wind up and the ball headed toward home plate, I could see little Eric’s “happy feet” moving up and down, but this time he was not moving backwards. Eric swung the bat and made contact! The ball got past the pitcher and bounced off of second base. Eric had hit the ball, but there was a problem; he was so stunned about his success that he was still standing at home plate. I screamed in his direction, “Run, Eric, run!” and he took off. He was so excited that he didn’t stop at first base, but kept on running down the right field line. “Come back to first base, Eric. You did it. Great job!” I’ll never forget the big smile on Eric’s face as he stood on first base after getting his first base hit. As for his coach… I think I was even happier than he was!

Being a pastor is a lot like being a coach. I like to give people a chance to discover and develop their God-given gifts. I wish we looked at life more like we do baseball. In our lives, we tend to focus more on our failures than we do our successes. In baseball, if you get a hit three out of every ten times at bat, you’re considered a really good hitter. We focus more on the three successes than we do on the seven failures. So here’s my coaching tip for your life today. Don’t be afraid of failure. You can’t get a hit if you don’t swing the bat. Don’t be afraid. Don’t let fear rob you of chasing after your dreams. You can do it.

Swing the bat!

Last Updated on Friday, June 13, 2014 7:36 PM
 

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