Get a Good Pitch to Hit...

Part 4: Coach Was Back & Already Calling One of His Players A Pu**y...

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Once Coach pinned the final roster to the bulletin board, it was all about the players he chose, not the ones he cut. I felt bad for Mike, but in the world of high school sports, those decisions are up to the head coach and are non-negotiable.

My youngest son Dylan who was 12 at the time, came to a lot of practices and started shagging foul balls during batting practice. I threw each player about 20 pitches and put a little zip on it. I always finished by throwing a couple down and away and asking the hitter to take them the other way. They'd lay down a couple of bunts and then stand in and swing away and run the last one out. BP was done with a purpose, but it was a lot of fun, too, especially for me.

Coach enjoyed having my son around, so he asked him to be the official batboy, which Dylan was more than happy to do. When he wasn't running after a foul ball hard enough, Coach got on him like he did the players. Dylan was definitely a part of this team. At the end of BP, Dylan got to take a few hacks, and the kids loved watching him hit.

While Coach hit balls to the infield, I hit balls to the outfield. I was a little rusty at first, having coached on Little League diamonds where one-handed check swings produced long fly balls. Hitting fly balls to high school kids on the big diamond was more challenging. I usually stood just beyond third base by the left field line and hit balls to the outfielders who were positioned in right field and right center. After the first week, to improve my distance, I started going to a local field in Norton and hitting fly balls to Dylan. I swung a weighted bat at home, and between the two, I started hitting the ball further. Even the kids noticed I had a little more pop. 

Once Coach saw me driving the ball, he came over, grabbed my bat, and started hitting to the outfielders. He was jacked, and he hit the ball further than I did. After proving his superiority, he smiled at me, handed the bat back, and walked away laughing. I was a little pissed that he showed me up in front of the players, but I figured it was all in good fun, so I got down on my knees and bowed to my master. It's baseball. You gotta keep it light.

This team had a highly spirited personality and a lot of camaraderie. I totally looked forward to the start of the season.

My job included getting the equipment out of the garage and then putting it away after practices and games. I coached first base, and Gada's dad stood at third. We didn't do anything on our own. The coach flashed signs from the bench and told us, "You better not miss 'em!" He intimidated us the same way he intimidated his players. He pretty much ruled with an iron fist, the same way he coached football.

I worked with the JV and Freshman teams as their hitting instructor. The younger kids paid close attention to my every word and asked questions. They stopped me in the hallways and in the lunchroom and wanted to talk hitting. I was no Walt Hriniak, and I didn't pretend to be, but I was the best the school had. Okay, the school's only hitting instructor…

I created a hitting poster titled "Hitting Cues A-Z" and hung it in the locker rooms so everyone could read it. I handed out smaller ones to every player.

Before games, I was responsible for handing in our roster to the home plate umpire. I did the book and kept the pitch count. 

After games, I called in the score and highlights to The Brockton Enterprise, The Boston Herald, and The Boston Globe and emailed highlights to the school newspaper. Since we hadn't done anything spectacular over the past few years, it was hard to excite the person on the other end of the phone and convince him we deserved some ink. We rarely got more than a score in any of the papers. As the season went on, I fine-tuned my phone delivery, but even that didn't help. Apparently, we didn't rate.


I remember when Mike Epstein ended his conversation with me at the Rotational Hitting Seminar, he smiled and said, "Get a good pitch to hit…" I thought about it, and it made perfect sense. Work the count in your favor and make the pitcher throw you a strike. And if he's consistently throwing first-pitch strikes, that's the good pitch Epstein was talking about, and you gotta take a hack at it. It could be the best pitch you're gonna see in the at-bat.

Coach always had the kids take a strike, but after I saw that an opposing pitcher was consistently throwing first-pitch strikes for a couple of innings, I told Coach, and he'd let the kids start first-pitch swinging. That's when our bats really came alive. No one wants to be stuck hitting in a pitcher's count.

Our starting pitching was solid, with Gada, John, and Alejandro leading the way. Our hitting was improving, with John, Stags, and Newk providing the power. All but a few kids were making solid contact. 

The Plumber at third base wasn't hitting, and his fielding was less than stellar. He wasn't getting to balls in the hole, or ones hit down the line. During BP, "Potatah," a backup middle infielder, was playing third and snagging everything hit his way. He looked like a gold glover, and at the plate, the skinny kid could rake. I knew we had to get him in the starting lineup.

I mentioned it to Coach, and he kept his eye on him. After practice, he called Potatah into his office and told him he wanted to move him to third base. The kid was ecstatic. I felt bad for Ryan, but Potatah was definitely an upgrade at third, and he was only a sophomore.

Alejandro was the smoothest fielding high school shortstop I had ever seen. He had soft hands, quick feet, and a strong arm. His whole family was all about baseball and went to every game. At one game, he made an error early, and Coach walked out to the first base line and started barking at him. 

Coach refused to pronounce his name correctly, too. He always called him  Ali-Jarndro instead of Ali-Handro, which is the correct pronunciation. I tried to explain that to Coach, but for whatever reason, he refused to say it correctly.

I could see that Coach's on-field verbal reprimand rattled the kid.  A few batters later, he booted a routine ground ball, and Coach came out and barked even louder. Alejandro made one more error in the inning, very unlike him, and when he finally came off the field after the third out, he ran right over to me and said, "Tell Coach to take me out!" I went to Coach and told him, and he benched him for the remainder of the game. 

After the loss and the long bus ride home, Coach called me into his office. He told me to shut the door, and then he said Alejandro was a pussy and he was kicking him off the team. I couldn't believe it. Alejandro was the real deal. Coach clearly rattled his cage. He asked me what I thought, and I said, "Alejandro had a bad inning, but he's the best pure baseball player on this team. I'd have a talk with him, but I wouldn't kick him off the team. That would have a negative effect on the entire team…"

Coach's blood was boiling, but I was convincing enough that he didn't kick Alejandro off the team. He actually called him in and talked with him. Coach was a football guy, and he yelled and swore at his football players from the sidelines at games, and that worked with their temperaments. Baseball players are different animals. You have to handle them with kid gloves. After an error, you don't humiliate them; you clap a few times, nod your head, and tell 'em to shake it off, and the good ones always do… 

We were hanging around at .500, which wasn't terrible. Then, on May 4th, we had an afternoon game at Diman Regional in Fall River, a team with a great baseball program and tradition we hadn't beaten in 20 years. Coach had a banquet for his Super Bowl football team that night, and he had to prepare and couldn't be at the baseball game. Gada's dad and I were co-coaching, and Gada (3-1) was taking the hill against, arguably, the best team in Division 1 Mayflower…


To be continued…

*All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental…