Wednesday, September 1, 2010

We had a ball

This is very exciting for us.
Last weekend the boys' baseball team won the championship in the Pee Wee Rec division. This was the first time that they have been on a team that has gone all the way to win the whole thing at the end.
And what a strange and amazing season it was.
Our son T actually gave up baseball a couple of years ago and decided to focus on tennis. His brother B has stuck with baseball the entire time but has also enjoyed dabbling in tennis as well.
What's amazing is that both boys have always been quite good at both sports even though they were each only really involved in one of them.

Over the past couple of years I watched T whenever the three of us would throw a ball around or do some hitting for fun. What a great little player he is! I always thought it such a waste it was that he wasn't on the team with B.
I would comment to him here and there that he should reconsider and play baseball in addition to his tennis. He didn't bite.
T was always an awesome supporter though. He was always at the games with us and constantly calling support to his brother and the others in the field. I was very proud of this.

Then something happened a couple of months ago.
My wife was the team manager and persuaded T to come out and participate in a baseball practice. She told him that over the course of the season there were going to be several occasions where some other team members were going to be on holidays and unable to play in games leaving us short of players and possibly risking forfeiting games.
It would be great if he could play at these times to help the team out.
That week he went out to practice with the team and played like an all-star! He was smoking at bat, firing the balls on target when he blasted them from the outfield and snagging almost everything that came his way!
It was amazing to watch.
This certainly did not go unnoticed by the coach Pierre.
At the end of the practice a few of the team members and coach asked T to please consider playing on the team full time.
And then our second baseball star was back. Cheryl and I were so happy.
I know now that T is happy with his decision too.

This may sound a little dramatic but if T didn't come onto the team they may not have won the championship. This was also pointed out by one of the coaches.
It's a long story but I'll try to explain.

The tournament consisted of 2 games on Friday, 2 games on Saturday and the Championship game on Sunday between the top two teams of the tournament up to that point.

Before I do this I have to mention something called the "pitch count". For those unfamiliar with it this is a rule of baseball that restricts the number of pitches a player is allowed to throw within a certain time frame.
I'm not certain of its origins but I know that when I was younger there was no such rule. When a good pitcher was found they were kept in the game and threw until they couldn't throw anymore.
As a result many young players suffered injuries and premature deterioration of their arms and shoulders.
This is a pretty good website of the American Sports Medicine Institute which explains it pretty well.
The league that the boys are in uses Baseball Canada's pitch count rules.
For their age group (Pee Wee - age 12-13) if the pitcher throws 30 or less pitches in a game they don't need any rest before pitching in another game.
For 31-45 piches they must have a full days rest before piching again.
46-60 pitches requires two days rest, 61-75 requires three days rest, 76-85 requires four days rest and states that they are not allowed to pitch more than 85 pitches in a single game.

This would turn out to be a critical factor in the way the tournament played out.

I should mention that B has been a solid pitcher for a few years now and I am proud to say that quite often he was the one the coaches have turned to for turning the game around or shutting down the other side to seal the win.
This didn't come without effort on his part. Almost every day he comes to me asking if I want to play catch in the backyard with him. T joins us quite often.
Some days I am so tired from the day or in anticipation of a Council meeting or event of some kind that I have coming up that I can barely lift my glove.
But I think of that scene in "Field of Dreams" where Kevin Costner asks the ghost of his father " Hey... Dad? You wanna have a catch?" and I choke up and get my glove on.
No meeting or work day is worth missing that, is it?

The coach told B a long time ago that throwing a ball as often as he can would improve his pitching. He was quite right and everyone noticed.
B is also a terrific first baseman but I think he prefers being a pitcher.

T tried his hand at pitching a couple of times earlier in the season but was somewhat discouraged when he didn't do as well as he would have liked. As a result he played in the infield and outfield where his rocket arm was put to good use.

Back to the pitch thing.
You can understand the predicament that coaches are often faced with with a smaller stable of pitchers to choose from in a game when their best arms are forced to rest.
I have to give our team's coaches a ton of credit for planning the tournament pitching the way that they did although I think some of it was a roll of the dice.
Realizing on Friday that the team would need to keep their best pitcher's counts low in order to blast on Saturday as well, Pierre called T in to the mound in the first game.
I don't think T was too pleased about it initially but it soon became clear that he had a made a good choice and T was certainly up to the task.
He ended up pitching most of the game and almost the maximum number of pitches allowed and shut the other team down!
Imagine our surprise! And his too. :)
This made an enormous difference in the way the rest of the weekend went. Here's how it played out.

They ended up winning the first 2 games on Friday against Minto Heat and the Fredericton A’s and a Saturday win against the Fredericton Blue Jays and loss to the Fredericton Red Sox.
However, the number of runs against them resulted in a first place finish going into the Championship game on Sunday.
Unfortunately for the other teams, the run count ended up with a tie for second place between Minto and Fredericton Red Sox requiring a tie breaking game to be played that morning before the Championship game.

I can only imagine the frustration of the coaches of these teams trying to figure out what to do.
Do they put their strongest pitching in the tie-breaker game which would limit or eliminate the ability to pitch in the final?
Or do they hold back the strongest arms and run the risk of losing and not even making it into the last game?
The Minto Heat opted with the first choice. They have one kid who is almost unbeatable. His arm is amazing. If they could have used him in both games it's possible that they may have won the whole thing but rules are rules.
Our coaches moved around players and planned the pitching in a way that B would be able to go the distance in the Championship game.
T wasn't able to pitch again after the first game but that didn't matter. He had done his job and earned the rest. What a guy. :)

Even without Minto's strongest pitcher the outcome of the game was uncertain.
Another of our lads started as pitcher and did a good job of keeping the game close.
B came to the mound and threw everything he had at them.

I want to mention something here. B can be very hard on himself at times.
On several occasions you could see the tension building in him if he threw pitches that weren't too good.
Often this would lead to the pitches getting worse and the frustration increasing. A vicious cycle that a kid can't get out of if he gets too far into it.
In fact, last season I almost blew my top at the coaches for their habit of stranding a poor kid out there on the mound until he was beyond recovery.
They wouldn't say anything or do anything or even show emotion to him. Just let him get deeper and deeper into despair.
In my opinion, all a coach has to do if he sees the cycle starting is to walk out to the mound and just have a quick chat with the pitcher. Get his mind away from the bad pitches. Ask the kid how he feels, how his day is going.
Heck, even tell the kid a joke!
Just let the kid know that your on their side and you believe in them no matter what.
That's all it takes and I believe that wholeheartedly.

What I found with B was that if I just talked to him from whereever I was and offered words of encouragement he could pull himself back and fire heat right into the strike zone.
I just say "That's okay pal, you're doing great", "Just pretend that we're throwing the ball in the backyard", "You're doing okay pal, just focus on your spot and try to hit it" and "No pressure at all. It's all good" and he seems to relax a bit.
Last year when I did that the coach said "Don't say anything! You're making him nervous!"
I almost lost it! But T and I both continued with our words of encouragement to B as he did his best out there.

Anyway, this is how it worked on Sunday. A couple of times B would throw a ball past the catcher and a man would steal home and score. B looked upset at things but came back to the task at hand.
It was supposed to be 7 inning game where their usual games are only 5.
However there was a rule that if one team was beating the other by 10 runs the mercy rule came into affect and the game was over.
Also, innings 1-5 had a limit of 5 runs per team. When that was reached that half of the inning was done and they switched.
Innings 5, 6, and 7 were open ended meaning a team could score as many as they could except if the 10 run mercy rule applied.
Thankfully, our guys went up 25-15 in their half of the 5th inning and were declared the winners.
I say thankfully because Sunday was so hot and sticky and uncomfortable that every living creature was looking for shady relief.
Those kids did a heck of a job out there in that heat.
Our last run was gained by our guy stealing from 3rd base to home.

What a happy little bunch of monkeys those guys were! Even though they were almost totally drained from the heat.
And we were all so proud of them for an excellent season well done.

Later on that evening I was chatting with B and asked him "When you're out there pitching and I say something to you, do you hear me?"
"Yep", he answered.
"Does it help you?" I asked.
"It sure does. I'm really happy that you say things to me when I'm playing."

There you go. Through all the noise he can hear me talking to him.
That made me pretty darn happy to hear.

I'd like to imagine that if they face a time in their lives that things aren't going so well and they start feeling down that the boys hear me saying "That's okay pal, you're doing great!" to them and it pulls them back up to get the job done.

Now, on to hockey! :)

Stay well,

1 comment:

cuddles said...

This was the perfect compliment to your twitter updates. :) It was great to read all the detail.

I know I've said it before, but I really admire your commitment to your boys. They're very lucky.

I hope the hockey season is just as successful!