They all came out for a Little League Team,
Some had pretty good arms, others real nice swings.
‘Got drafted to be the coach of this swarm,
it’s over now; I’ll miss the boys in their uniforms.
They gave me chance to be again young, wild & free;
To work with these kids was pretty cool,
Yeah, if I was young I know where I’d be,
and what I’d do if it was me.
 

One of these days, they’re gonna have to grow up,
Gonna get real jobs & be adults,
Have to worry about things out of their control,
Like kids of their own, and getting’ old.
Yeah, one of these days…
Just not today…

(stolen & re-rhymed from Just Not Today)

And so ends another season of coaching little (and not so little) kids through the trials & tribulations of a sports campaign.  This was my first go-round with a Little League team.  Yeah, last year I managed a “Rookies” team in Fletcher Hills Little League, but moving up to the competitive “CAPS” division was a stretch that I hadn’t planned.  The “Rookies” level baseball I’d managed was entirely developmental; the kids’ games had almost no rules and it was a terrific learning environment.  Everyone was friendly and the spirit was one of mutual learning and building of skills for the kids.

And then came the CAPS division!  Holy guacamole!  Was I in for a shock! 

I thought negotiating the minefield of whining and crying and spoiled-rotten adolescent behavior was behind me.  Little did I know that the childish, self-serving antics were not outgrown with the step up in divisions, and we’d be forced to deal with tantrums and fits of rage so unbecoming that true adults could only shake their heads in wonder & disbelief as the paroxysms took place.  Those involved should have been ashamed of their pubescent conduct, but when improper behavior patterns have been allowed to develop, unabated and without consequence, for long periods of time these breaches in social etiquette and basic manners must be expected.  If allowed, bad boys will always be bad boys, and their behavior will worsen if unchecked.

Oh, wait - I hope you don’t think I was talking about the kids on the team!  No!  They were, save a few moments of true boyish impishness and frolicking, perfect gentlemen.  No – I was referring to the conduct of a few other managers – BOTH ON and OFF the field.  Horrifying! 

But this is about the boys, so I won’t digress (too much). 

As manager & coach, I'm proud to bring you the 2010 Rangers!

So, here I was, thrust into a managerial position, riding herd over 11 boys who I was certain, when I met them for the first time, God had sent to me as retribution for all my past and future sins.  I didn’t volunteer for the position - not because I was unwilling to donate my time or energy – the truth was that I didn’t know a lick about baseball and really didn’t think I could help the boys improve.  I’d coached a number of girls’ soccer teams to highly successful and even undefeated seasons, but I’d learned the year before in my outing as a Rookies’ manager that boys are NOT girls.  The maxim “boys will be boys…” was not unjustly coined.  So when the League came to me and asked me to take over a team I politely said “No.”  A week or two later they came again and this time, in a weakened state from rigorous soccer all-star practices, I buckled and said, “Maybe, but I’d rather not.” 

A day later I received was an e-mail noting that they’d assigned me a team.  No discussion.  No option.  Drafted to serve.

By my time of conscription the tryouts had passed.  I hadn’t seen any of the kids catch, throw, hit, or run and I had to make picks to fill a roster based on the limited information I had from memories of T-ball and Rookies.  The league required the other managers to provide me with their draft analysis sheets, which they did - on the faxes & e-mails the eraser and white-out marks showed clearly.  Some had players completely removed from consideration.  Later I’d realize those blanks said more in themselves than the names of the boys who’d been scratched.  Game on, 1st time manager… 

So the draft came, and the draft was indeed the defining event of the season.  Instead of allowing any one team to be stacked unevenly there were 6 teams of nearly equal strength created.  To the discontent of certain managers, a reasonable level of parody was achieved. 

And out we came!  To the practice field, All!  The Rangers were here!

The anticipation brimmed as the boys arrived.  I knew we had a winning bunch – there would be kids who threw laser-like pitches straight, hard and true.  Boys who crushed homers at will, speed on the basepaths and cat-like play in the infield.  Oh, it was going to be marvelous!  I somehow had built a vision in my mind that we had the 2009 Yankees roster.  We’d win the division hands-down, and we’d go down in the annals of FHLL as the greatest CAPS team to ever take the field.

Five minutes into our first practice reality set in.  Balls flew wildly past mitts that hadn’t been broken in.  Boys panicked and dove out of the way of slow grounders.  Pop flies landed on the grass with soft thuds at the feet of our players.  Massive bats bigger than Adrian Gonzales would ever swing came out of bags and found their way into the hands of 55 lb players.  My hopes and dreams were dashed!  We didn’t have a squad who’d win an effortless championship!  We had a group of 8-10 year old boys who needed work on their game.

When the practice schedule came out I remember thinking – ‘We don’t need all these days…’ but after our first practice outing I was convinced we’d never have enough practice time.  The dreams of hoisting the championship trophy quickly evaporated into a dream that we might develop the skills of these boys to the point that we’d score a few runs.  Winning was out of the question; survival of the season for the players and the coaches became the objective.  It came as a shock, but I realized we had work to do.

Really, it wasn’t as bad as I’d thought it to be.  This is where the thanks begin.  The gratitude for all the help cannot ever be completely relayed or adequately doled out; I’ll just throw it up where I can.  If I leave anyone out, please accept my apologies in advance. 

So thanks first to John Rodinec who stopped me from jumping to my death more than once this past season.  He’d been there before, and he assured me that it wasn’t as bad as I was imagining it to be.  His calm was the anchor that held the Rangers steady throughout the season.  John was steadfast that we had a strong core and the boys would learn as the season progressed.  Much of the Rangers’ success this season can be attributed to John and his imparting of wisdom upon this novice coach.

As this tale unfolds, please remember that I knew nothing of baseball.  Didn’t play it as a kid, and didn’t watch it as an adult.  So I most certainly didn’t know how to coach it.  I could teach kids 30 different wrestling takedown techniques or how to run a Wing-T or Power-I offense, but the basics of the Diamond were a mystery to me.  I could get the boys in shape and assert the semblance of discipline necessary to form the cohesiveness of a team, but conducting drills that would keep 11 boys focused was a mystery.  Baseball is NOT soccer, nor is it football.  There is not 100% player involvement on every play.  Keeping the boys attentive was a challenge.

John & Ron Teschler were instrumental in working with me on the setting up of practice stations and conducting drills for the proper amount of time to keep the boys interested.  The RANGERS were a … (how do I put this delicately?)… spirited group and keeping their attention was challenging.  John & Ron were both godsends to the boys.  I cannot thank them both enough. 

And thanks are in order to all who contributed.  Cori & Ilene did a marvelous job of coordination of off the field activities & duties.  Julio worked tirelessly in the scorebooth.  Harlan, Patrick, Robert, Alex, and Jason all contributed when called upon to help with warm ups & coaching.  Barbara and Liz and Rebecca and Angelica helped too with organizing the boys and the activities.  This was truly a team effort!  (remember too that Rebecca ran the snack bar all year – props to her!)  And let’s not forget Isidoro – a huge contributor until a flood at his home forced him to temporarily move & he couldn’t make practices. 

Thanks too to all for putting up with a 1st year manager.  If you saw the first practice, you know how far our boys came this season.  I’m far too humble to profess great feats of managerial prowess or terrific leadership or baseball knowledge – the Rangers got better because we practiced more often and longer than the other teams – it had very little to do with me.  So, thanks to all for bringing your boys out and dedicating the time and energy necessary to help the team as a whole.  If I knew more about baseball at the start of the season, our improvement would have transpired more rapidly.  Thanks to all for the commitment and patience.  The Rangers’ success was a result of our parent's involvement. 

Let’s get back to the boys now… 

We were a spirited bunch; full of energy, but, frankly, didn’t look so good as a team to start.  Yet, as John pointed out, we had a good core.  Hours were spent on catching & throwing, and the boys got better.  We had to restock the first aid kit, but the boys got better still.  After the throwing and catching reached a reasonable level we worked on ground ball & fly ball drills (and the first aid kit was again depleted), and we improved.  When our fielding was tolerable we went to the bats – it was tough on some of the boys that we never hit at a few practices, but we needed the work elsewhere – when we were ready we started hitting, and discovered our hitting wasn’t too bad! 

Preseason practice games started and, save a few bright moments, the boys were generally trounced.  But we were getting better.  We crammed practices in between the games and took all the batting cage time we could get.  Hats off to the Rangers’ boys for their hard work! 

Then it was upon us – the regular season!  The Rangers came out swinging!  The boys won the opener, and took 3 of the first 4.  Then the other teams realized the Rangers were for real.  The doormats of the preseason were implementing learned skills and winning games.  We started to see the best pitching the other CAPS Teams could bring out, and time and again the Rangers rose to the challenge put forth.  The boys came back from huge deficits to win, and even in the few losses they suffered they played exciting baseball.  The regular season ended with the Rangers snagging the #3 seed in the playoffs, and missing the #2 seed by 1 run scored!  

Heading into the playoffs, the Rangers were a team to be reckoned with!  And the other teams knew it… 

In our first playoff game we faced a player who emerged as arguably the league’s most consistent pitcher.  As an older player he was allowed to throw 75 pitches, and our boys saw every one of them.  But our pitchers matched him pitch-for-pitch, and when his pitch-count was up, the hit parade began.  The boys fielded well, hit the ball and walked away with an exciting first round win! 

The next game was to be one where our boys played tremendous baseball – maybe the best of the season.  We out-hit, out-hustled, and outplayed the competition.  The only thing we didn’t do was pitch.  The Rangers’ pitchers, so strong all year and the backbone of the team’s success, gave up 9 runs on walks or hit batters.  Our pitchers just had ‘one of those days’ as a group, and we fell.  No one was at fault; the pitching melt-down was a group effort and even with what had become a patented “Rangers’ Rally” we fell short.  The boys had too big a hole to climb out of, and despite a valiant effort, came out on the losing end. 

In the double-elimination format, it was now a ‘win or go home’ scenario for the boys.  It was also to be a ‘David vs. Goliath’ match-up.  The Rangers were to face the league’s biggest player and hardest thrower.  Some of our boys don’t weigh in at 50 lbs and the pitcher we faced was much larger - a terrific young man, and this year found the throwing motion that he’d lacked in prior seasons.  Inconsistent at times, this game proved to be one of his best efforts, and our boys were overpowered for 4 solid innings by a player 3 times the size of most of them.  But still they stood their ground courageously, and when Goliath ran out of pitches again the Rangers stormed back from a 10 run deficit to tie the game in the 6th.  Eventually our boys succumbed, but they provided us all with an extremely exciting game, and season. 

In the end our boys grew to be one of the top teams in the league.  We were 2nd in the regular season in scoring by 2 scant runs, and 2nd in scoring defense.  When our pitching was “on” we were unbeatable.  We turned double plays and made plays at the plate and on the basepaths.  The bottom line is that the job was done – we’ve got about ½ the team ready to move up to the Minors division next year, and the other ½ playing CAPS level baseball.  Our boys practiced the highest level of sportsmanship – we had numerous compliments from parents on other teams on the boys’ behavior and demeanor.  My apologies to our parents for the long & more frequent practices - if I'd known anything about baseball to start the season we could have advanced more rapidly.  It took longer, but we got 'er done. 

Lastly, my deepest gratitude goes out to my wife Suzy who waited patiently on many an eve' as I closed down the field and arrived home in the dark.  She gave me support at all times.  I love her very much and am grateful to have her as my wife. 

Thanks to all our parents for the opportunity to work with your kids.  I’ve ridden 25’ waves, paddled Class 5 whitewater, caught fish bigger than me, and skied perfect powder alone in the back bowls of the Bugaboos and more still, and nothing was as much fun as watching these boys grow and learn.  I rode the highs with them, and felt the pains of their lows.  It was an honor to be the manager of the Rangers.  I didn’t ask to do it, but now that I’ve done it, I wouldn’t trade the experience. 

Again, it was a pleasure and an honor to be a part of it all.  Hopefully memories were etched into the minds of the boys and lessons on sportsmanship were taught that will last a lifetime.  I wish each and every one of these fine boys the best in the future, as I wish the same for their parents.   

Rangers forever!  The games are over until next year, but the faces & fun will never be forgotten.

Best Wishes to all,

Rob Northrup